Tens of millions of Americans suffer from back pain every year. The condition is a leading cause of disability and decreased productivity in the workforce and, as any sufferer will attest, a chronically painful back can have serious detrimental effects on your quality of life. Consequently, over one million Americans undergo invasive, complex spine surgeries every year in an attempt to find relief from this debilitating condition.
However, at RestorePDX, we believe that the current standard of care–physical therapy and narcotics progressing to steroid injections and, ultimately, invasive surgical procedures–isn’t the best option for many patients. For many patients, back surgery is something that should be considered only if absolutely, unquestionably, necessary, and while it’s true that some cases are best treated by surgery, we believe that many can be managed without it.
In fact, the time, cost, complications, and overall lack of efficacy that come with most spine surgeries should have patients running for the hills!
Recovering from spine surgery can take weeks or months of focus and dedication. Patients are generally kept in the hospital under observation for days following their procedure, followed by weeks in rehabilitation to strengthen their core and return to their pre-procedure condition. In many cases, patients can be out of work for weeks or months before they’re recovered enough to return. In the meantime, the basic activities of daily living, including sleep, can be adversely affected, making recovery even more challenging.
Back surgery is an incredibly expensive undertaking. When you factor in the cost of the surgery itself–remember you’re paying the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, and the facility in three separate bills!–on top of the costs associated with a multi-day hospital stay, rehabilitation, and loss of productivity while you recover, you’re looking at tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even if you have health insurance, the rise in high deductible health plans could leave you on the hook for a sizable percentage of these costs. Additionally, even if you have a co-pay only health plan, your carrier will do nothing to offset your loss of productivity while you recover.
“Next Level” Syndrome
Most spine surgeries aim to stabilize the spine by fusing–literally screwing together–the affected vertebrae to each other. This creates a stable structure that prevents movement and, for a time, reduces pain. However, preventing movement in this manner also serves to transfer the stress of movement to the levels above and below the fusion, which accelerates the degeneration of those previously unaffected vertebrae. Eventually, the fusion will have to be extended to these levels, requiring future surgery; essentially, signing up for a fusion also means signing up for additional fusions down the road.
As mentioned above, back surgery is an incredibly invasive procedure. It can take weeks or months to recover from fusion surgery, and that’s if there are no complications. If things go south, some of the potential complications of back surgery can include an adverse reaction to anesthesia, bleeding, infection, deadly blood clots that can circulate to the heart or lungs, heart attack, stroke, and nerve damage. Like any procedure, patients need to thoughtfully weigh the potential benefits of back surgery against these serious complications to make an informed decision on whether or not to proceed.
Lack of Effectiveness
The biggest variable in back surgery is, unfortunately, the most important one–whether or not it will even work. Sadly, back pain is not guaranteed to bring relief and, thanks to phenomena like Next Level Syndrome, even if it does, in the beginning, it’s not guaranteed to last. Studies have shown that up to half of the patients who undergo back pain do not experience lasting or even temporary relief, meaning patients can go through all of the trouble of paying for back surgery, avoiding complications, and recovering from the invasive procedure only to find no lasting relief on the other side of the experience.
Clearly, if you have been told that you need back surgery, you owe it to yourself to consider getting a second opinion from a qualified physician. Many surgeons hold wildly divergent opinions about when, how, and why to operate–or even if surgery is warranted at all. Back pain is a very complex issue that requires a team of health professionals to diagnose and treat; if you have been told you need surgery, consider reaching out to the team at RestorePDX today to see what non-surgical options might be available to treat your pain!