With age, theres a lot that can go wrong with your spine. Arthritic changes in the vertebrae can produce bony outgrowths leading to spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the canal surrounding the spinal cord. Osteoporosis can cause spinal fractures and collapse the vertebrae. The joints connecting the vertebrae can thicken and malfunction. The spongy disks that cushion the vertebrae can bulge (herniate) and rupture. And all of these degenerative changes can exert pressure on the spinal cord and the array of nerves exiting the spinal canal and cause pain. Surgery may seem like a quick fix. A trip to the operating room, a few days in the hospital and, voila, your back pain is gone-or so you think. Truth is, putting your spine under the knife doesnt guarantee pain relief. In general, spinal surgery should be a last resort, and only a small percentage of people with back problems require a surgical solution. The key is to know if youre one of them.