Well­ness Arti­cles

Back Surgery Results Very Dis­ap­point­ing

Accord­ing to a story from the April, 8, 2002 issue of the New Yorker online mag­a­zine “Fact”, the results of back surg­eries per­formed over the years have been much less than expected. The arti­cle starts by ask­ing the ques­tion, “Is surgery the best approach to chronic back pain?” It then goes on to state, “Last year, approx­i­mately a hun­dred and fifty thou­sand lower-​lumbar spinal fusions were per­formed in the United States.”

When asked about the chances for suc­cess with spinal surgery, Dr. Eugene Car­ragee, at Stan­ford, who says he per­forms the oper­a­tion only on a select group of patients who have been care­fully screened, esti­mates that less than a quar­ter of the oper­a­tions will be com­pletely suc­cess­ful. For the major­ity of patients, the surgery does not have a dra­matic impact on either their pain or their mobil­ity. He con­cludes, that the patient’s prospects for a future that is free from back pain is fairly poor.

The New Yorker arti­cle also states that many patients who have had surgery end up going back to their sur­geons. In a study in the state of Wash­ing­ton of work­ers injured on the job who received fusions forChi­ro­prac­tic first, surgery last degenerative-​disk dis­ease, the results showed that twenty-​two per cent had fur­ther surgery. The arti­cle also reported that Dr. Seth Wald­man, at New York’s Hos­pi­tal for Spe­cial Surgery, claims to reg­u­larly see spinal-​fusion patients who expe­ri­ence per­sis­tent pain after mul­ti­ple oper­a­tions. Sadly, few patients fac­ing spinal surgery seem to have any idea that the sta­tis­tics are so unfavorable.

In the Decem­ber 2001 issue, the jour­nal “Spine” pub­lished the results of an award-​winning study from Scan­di­navia in which patients who under­went fusion surgery for chronic lower-​back pain were com­pared with those who had had no surgery. In this ran­dom­ized con­trolled trial, only one out of every six of the patients in the sur­gi­cal group was rated by an inde­pen­dent observer as hav­ing an “excel­lent” result after two years. Addi­tion­ally, Dr. Richard Deyo, an internist and an expert on back pain at the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton, recently pub­lished a sta­tis­ti­cal analy­sis of exist­ing research which sug­gested that spinal fusion gen­er­ally lacked sci­en­tific ratio­nale, and also that it had a sig­nif­i­cantly higher rate of com­pli­ca­tion than did discectomy.

In con­clu­sion, the arti­cle quotes Dr. Seth Wald­man, who sees the con­se­quences of failed fusions at the Hos­pi­tal for Spe­cial Surgery every week. Dr. Wald­man wishes that the med­ical pro­fes­sion could be per­suaded to show a lit­tle restraint. He con­cludes the arti­cle by say­ing. “If you have a screw­driver, every­thing looks like a screw. There will be a lot of peo­ple doing the wrong thing for back pain for a long time, until we finally fig­ure it out. I just hope that we don’t hurt too many peo­ple in the process.”

Ran­dom Article

In a series of arti­cles dated July 21 and 22, 2002 from the Chicago Tri­bune comes a fright­en­ing report of need­less deaths of thousands

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