Many people undergoing spinal surgery will do so for any number of reasons. I have degenerative disc disease, spondylosis and stenosis.
Surgery in 2005 was a laminectomy, performed entirely from the back (posterior) where they removed bone from inside the spinal canal to open it up to remove the pressure on the spinal cord. There was also a cyst that had formed which was also removed. This surgery was a "piece of cake" when I look back retrospectively.
Surgery in 2006 was called Anterior/Posterior approach Interbody Fusion. This was performed from the front (thorough the belly and the back) as well as the back. This is the most difficult recovery. There is a 6 inch incision in the abdomen as well as 6 inches in the back. The loss of stomach muscle makes it very hard to get in and out of bed, a chair, etc. Kind of like having a C-section and a back surgery in the same day! This approach is sometimes necessary because the surgeon wants to view the spine from the anterior view (frontal view) There is no scar tissue formation from the frontal view. I find it amazing that they actually move your intestines and other organs around in order to view the spine.
This most recent surgery December 2010 was called a XLIF with posterior approach. The surgeon enters through a 3 inch incision along the side just above the pelvic bone, after which they then approach from the back. My surgeon claimed that the recovery was faster. In some ways it is. Definitely better than a full frontal incision. The side incision is very painful but easier to move around. I was up walking 3 days after surgery.
The decision on the type of surgery needed is one that you will discuss with your surgeon. I cannot stress enough the importance of getting several opinions. I consulted with 3 surgeons on my diagnosis and options of treatment.
Prior to surgery, a patient will most likely try every option available to him/her before deciding on surgery. I sought intervention from pain management, trying physical therapy to pain injections (I have had epidural blocks, caudal blocks, facet joint injections). Injections can get you through a few months in order to buy time in order to seek opinions and make a decision. Injections are not a cure and may not help everyone.