Spinal surgery is considered unnecessary if there is pain, but no radiological abnormalities or neurologic deficits. In a year-long study by a senior neurosurgeon, 47 out of 274 spinal surgeries had been considered unnecessary, but were completed anyway. These patients complained of pain in either the cervical or lumbar areas, but had no other abnormal findings.
Of the unnecessary surgeries, roughly half were lumbar interbody fusions, and other half were cervical fusions in combination with laminectomy or diskectomy. Most of the patients had co-existing disorders that may have been a cause for the pain, or were considered risky for surgery. These disorders included hypertension, severe psychiatric disorder, morbid obesity, high cholesterol, asthma, multiple sclerosis, and fibromyalgia.
Unnecessary spinal surgery is fairly common, expensive, and not in the best interest of patients.
Epstein NE, & Hood DC. "Unnecessary" spinal surgery: A prospective 1-year study of one surgeon's experience. Surgical Neurology International. (November 2011).