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The Mounting Case Against Back Surgery

The Mounting Case Against Back Surgery

The decision to undergo surgery should never be taken lightly. An estimated 600,000 back surgeries are performed in the United States each year, but a growing group of experts are raising questions about the effectiveness and the necessity of such surgeries. Be sure that you’re arming yourself with the right information before you agree to an aggressive treatment, such as back surgery.

The Most Common Types of Back Surgery

According to the Mayo Clinic, the four most common types of surgery are discectomy, which removes a portion of a herniated disc and back portion of a vertebra; laminectomy, which involves the removal of the bone overlying the spinal canal; fusion, which connects two or more bones in the spine; and implantation of artificial disks.

Failed Surgeries Are Common

Back pain tops the list of reasons why Americans visit the doctor, which makes it no surprise that spinal fusion procedures have increased more than 70% since 2001. Major healthcare organizations and news organizations, including the Mayo Clinic, CBS News and NBC News, have brought attention to the issues with back surgery and much of it isn’t pretty. The Mayo Clinic states, “Back pain is extremely common, and surgery often fails to relieve it,” and “Back surgery can help relieve some causes of back pain, but it’s rarely necessary.”

Research indicates some startlingly high numbers supporting these statements. In a study published in the journal Spine, researchers reviewed data from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation database. They found 1,450 patients with disc degeneration, disc herniation and/or radiculopathy (nerve disease). Half of these patients underwent spinal fusion surgery, while the other half did not. Two years later, only 26% of the patients who had surgery had returned to work, while 67% of the patients who did not have surgery were able to return to work. Also troubling, those who had the spinal fusion surgery saw a 41% increase in opioid (painkiller) use

The Mounting Case Against Back Surgery

Be Sure to Cover All Your Bases

Hit the brakes before you make the decision to opt for a back surgery. Make sure you’ve gone through the proper steps to ensure the necessity of your surgery:

Ask the right questions. What is the operation? Why is it necessary? Are there more conservative options to try first? What are my risks and benefits?

Seek a second opinion. Studies have shown that 30% of patients who sought a second opinion in elective surgeries found that the opinions were not in agreement. Often insurance companies require patients to seek a second opinion on a surgical procedure.

Visit a chiropractor. Chiropractors are experts in musculoskeletal conditions whereas primary care providers typically are not. Many people go to a primary care provider initially, only to receive a referral to a surgeon—which almost immediately takes more conservative options off the table.

Please note: This post is intended for educational purposes and is not meant to be used in place of medical advice.