Yoga Raja Rampersaud, MD, FRCSC,1 Dr. Hamilton Hall, MD, FRCSC,2

1Associate Professor Department of Surgery, University of Toronto, Divisions of Orthopaedic and Neurosurgery University Health Network Medical Director, Back and Neck Specialty Program, Altum Health, Past President Canadian Spine Society.
2is a Professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of Toronto. He is the Medical Director, CBI Health Group and Executive Director of the Canadian Spine Society in Toronto, Ontario.


Abstract: The majority of the patients referred for surgical consultation are not candidates for surgery. Appropriate operative candidates endure unnecessary and potentially detrimental delays in obtaining their surgery while the rest waste time waiting to be told that surgery is not the answer. The Canadian Spine Society surveyed its membership to establish a set of practical surgical referral recommendations for non-emergent spinal problems. The results support referrals of patients with leg or arm dominant pain but, in the absence of a significant structural abnormality, discourage referring patients with neck or back dominant symptoms.
Key Words: spine surgery, indications, referral, clinical presentations, non-emergent.

Members of the College of Family Physicians of Canada may claim MAINPRO-M2 Credits for this unaccredited educational program.

You can take quizzes without subscribing; however, your results will not be stored. Subscribers will have access to their quiz results for future reference.

There is no universally acceptable ideal candidate, absolute indication or unqualified contraindication for elective spinal surgery.
Referral is recommended most often for patients who have constant arm or leg dominant pain.
Patients who have untreated neck or back dominant pain are not appropriate surgical referrals.
Surgeons insistence on an image or refusal to see a suitable patient who rejects surgery reflect the excessive demand on their time, which can be relieved with proper referral.
The recommendation for referral is highest when the patient has had aappropriate non-operative treatment: well supervised physical therapy, suitable medication, effective education and successful lifestyle modification.
Spine related arm and leg dominant pain are usually the result of specific nerve root pathologies and therefore are more likely amenable to surgical intervention than back or neck pain which are generally multifactorial.
Patients with disabling or progressive neurological deficits should be referred early; patients with little or no pain and with no functional limitation related to the neurological deficit are not recommended for referral.
To have access to full article that these tools were developed for, please subscribe. The cost to subscribe is $80 USD per year and you will gain full access to all the premium content on, an educational portal, that hosts 1000s of clinical reviews, case studies, educational visual aids and more as well as within the mobile app.