Risks of Back Surgery:
There are many risks and dangers with back surgery. It has helped some people, but it had also actually hurt many people as well. You have to be very careful about surgery and weight your options for more natural roads to recovery when it comes to low back pain before you commit to going under the knife.
Back Surgery Can Back Fire
According to a new study, patients who had spinal fusion were less likely to return to work and needed more opiates. Experts estimate that nearly 600,000 Americans opt for back operations each year. But for many, surgery is just an empty promise, say pain management experts and some surgeons. A new study in the journal Spine shows that in many cases surgery can even backfire, leaving patients in more pain.
Researchers reviewed records from 1,450 patients in the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation database who had diagnoses of disc degeneration, disc herniation or radiculopathy, a nerve condition that causes tingling and weakness of the limbs. Half of the patients had surgery to fuse two or more vertebrae in hopes of curing low back pain. The other half had no surgery, even though they had comparable diagnoses.
After two years, just 26 percent of those who had surgery returned to work. That’s compared to 67 percent of patients who didn’t have surgery. In what might be the most troubling study finding, researchers determined that there was a 41 percent increase in the use of painkillers, specifically opiates, in those who had surgery.
The study provides clear evidence that for many patients, fusion surgeries designed to alleviate pain from degenerating discs don’t work, says the study’s lead author Dr. Trang Nguyen, a researcher at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
For some patients, there is a legitimate need for spine surgery and fusion, says Dr. Charles Burton, medical director for The Center for Restorative Spine Surgery in St. Paul, Minn. “But the concern is that it’s gotten way beyond what is reasonable or necessary. There are some areas of the country where the rate of spine surgery is three or four times the national average.”
Burton and others recommend that patients get a second opinion when back surgery is recommended for the treatment of back pain without neurological symptoms, such as sciatica, especially if other treatments haven’t been suggested first.
“We are very successful at improving leg symptoms,” says Dr. William Welch, vice chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center and chief of neurosurgery at Pennsylvania Hospital. “We are less successful at treating back pain.”
The reason, Welch says, is that it’s often hard to pinpoint the exact cause of someone’s back pain. Even MRIs can be misleading because abnormalities, such as degenerating discs, can be seen on scans for virtually everyone over the age of 30 regardless of whether they have pain. Even when the surgery is a success, it rarely dispels 100 percent of back pain, Welch says.
Article written by Linda Carroll, msnbc.com