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The World's Most Dangerous Myths About Back Surgery


 

Nearly 200,000 spinal fusion surgeries are conducted every year in the United States. Back pain has now become the third leading reason for surgery in the country.

But is back surgery all it's cracked up to be? Find out for yourself as we pull back the curtain on three of the most dangerous myths and misperceptions about spine surgery.

Myth: Back surgery is required to treat recurring or chronic back pain

Perhaps no myth about back surgery is so pervasive as the inevitability of spinal surgery for treating recurring or chronic back pain. The good news is nothing could be farther from the truth for the vast majority of patients.

Outside of treatment for a traumatic injury or an operation to remove tumors from the spine, very little scientific evidence shows back surgery as any more effective than much less invasive methods of treating back pain. Some studies suggest as few as 2% of all back pain sufferers would benefit from any form of spinal surgery.

Fortunately for those suffering from back pain, there are numerous effective treatments which require no surgery ranging from physical therapy, to chiropractic care, to muscle balance therapy.

Myth: Herniated discs require corrective back surgery

Corrective surgery for a herniated disc is among the most common reasons for spinal surgery. But surgery rarely corrects the underlying cause of the condition itself, especially in the case of herniated discs.

Contrary to popular opinion, most herniated discs are not caused by any single movement. Instead, they are most frequently caused by postural dysfunctions brought on by long-term muscle imbalances.

Think of the muscles supporting your back like the tires on a car. When the tires are in proper alignment, they wear evenly and last much longer. Left out of alignment long enough though and it's only a matter of time before a potentially catastrophic blowout.

Similarly, when the muscles in your back become "out of balance" — by one set of muscles becoming stronger or more flexible than an opposing set, unequal stress on the spine eventually pulls it into an abnormal curvature. Before long, the increased wear and tear on the spinal disc in the affected area may cause the disc to bulge or rupture.

One common surgical approach to treating back pain from a herniated disc is a discectomy. This form of back surgery attempts to relieve pressure on spinal nerves by removing material from the ruptured disc that has been forced out of its normal position. Remove the pressure, remove the pain.

This sounds like a good solution until one realizes that the muscle imbalances and postural dysfunctions that caused the disc to herniated in the first place are still there. If those underlying issues are not corrected, it's only a matter of time until back pain returns, often as acute pain from a recurrent herniated disc.

Myth: Back surgery is a safe and effective approach for treating back pain

Advances in spinal surgery techniques have decreased the invasiveness of some surgical procedures now offered. Yet all forms of back surgery continue to involve significant risks, not the least of which is failure resulting in the patient having more pain and less mobility than before the surgery.

Most back surgeries today are for the treatment of lower back pain. Lumbar spinal fusion is one of the most common surgical procedures employed for that. In even the best case scenarios, spinal fusion surgery fails to fuse the vertebrae in 5% to 10% of operations. And more than 20% of patients fail to get back pain relief from the surgery — again, in the best case scenario.

It is also telling that back surgery is the only category of surgery with a clinical name for failure: failed back surgery syndrome. The most common cause of failed back surgery? Improper patient selection — where the actual source of pain (the area to be operated on) is misdiagnosed. In other words, spine surgery performed to correct a problem that never existed!

How is this possible? Many times back pain is actually referred pain from other areas. Piriformis syndrome, sacroiliac joint dysfunction and hip osteoarthritis may cause pain that appears to be coming directly from the spine.

Other times the problem originates in the spine, but from a different area than the one operated on. Either way, treating the wrong area will certainly fail to improve pain symptoms.

Bottom line: Back surgery may not help your pain

Only 1 in 50 back pain sufferers are good candidates for back surgery. Out of those, many will find non-surgical approaches just as successful at relieving back pain and increasing mobility as spine surgery, without the inherent risks. Our recommendation is to treat back surgery strictly as a last resort after all other options have been exhausted.

 


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All material herein is provided for information only and may not be construed as personal medical advice. No action should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The publisher is not a licensed medical care provider. The information is provided with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in the practice of medicine or any other health-care profession and does not enter into a health-care practitioner/patient relationship with its readers. The publisher is not responsible for errors or omissions.

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