Spinal surgery is a general term covering several surgical procedures used in management of degenerative disc disease. The spinal cord should not be affected in this type of surgery. Currently, this surgery is a concern to diving medicine physicians, but it does not automatically disqualify candidates from diving. There is no evidence that surgery would predispose a diver to spinal cord decompression sickness, but there is concern about the disruption of blood supply to the area where the surgery was performed.
The formation of scar tissue and altered blood flow may not allow for the most effective offgassing of nitrogen from surrounding tissue once it is absorbed during the dive. Actually, it is the physical limitations after surgery which may be a more important consideration. A diver with a history of back surgery is exposed to the possibility of a second back injury in two ways: by lifting and carrying dive equipment or by simply moving about with full equipment on board the dive vessel.
Once a diver returns to full activity after surgery and has no residual symptoms such as numbness, tingling, pain or burning sensations in the legs, the back problem is probably corrected. The diver can return to scuba diving as long as symptoms don't recur with exercise or other activities. Extra precautions after back surgery include: donning equipment after entering the water; limiting dive depths and times; increasing the length of surface intervals; and reducing diving frequency. Limiting exposure to high partial pressures of nitrogen is the best way to avoid decompression illness.