Fusion Surgery: Blowing the Whistle


It’s time we set something straight once and for all. Back fusion surgery is crippling those with back pain. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

spinal fusion surgery debunk

It's high time to blow the whistle on fusion surgery

Every ten seconds in the United States, someone will go to the hospital with a back pain complaint. That’s well over three million emergency room visits every year.

About one in five will be admitted for treatment including over 450,000 fusion surgeries. Total inpatient cost of these treatments will exceed $9.5 billion dollars — now the 9th most expensive condition treated in U.S. hospitals.

What really aggravates the fire out of me is how many of these patients admitted into the so-called “best healthcare system in the world” will then be ushered into operating rooms for a spinal fusion surgery… and come out worse than they went in.

Heck, back surgery is the only category of surgery with its own clinical name for failure: Failed Back Surgery Syndrome.

Now you may think a failed back surgery simply means it didn’t relieve your pain. And with an average bill of $80,000 for a complex fusion surgery that’s sure going to hurt your wallet even if you have insurance.

But the real risk is that fusion surgery can make you worse… much worse. Here’s some statistics on spinal fusion surgery that makes my point:

  • 13% of patients will be back in the hospital within 30 days
  • 20% will need another surgery within 10 years
  • Risk of stroke is double that of decompression surgery
  • Risk of death is double that of decompression surgery

Don’t get me started on “improved surgical techniques” either. Reoperation rates within one year of having surgery has increased by 40% since the early 1990s. Yet the number of complex fusion surgeries performed every year has increased 1500 percent in just five years (2002 to 2007).

But that’s not the worst of it. When fusion surgery is compared to nonsurgical treatments like physical therapy and exercise, end results of fusion surgery don’t even come close. And isn’t that why people get the surgery in the first place — results?

A couple months ago a new study published in Spine compared the success of lumbar fusion surgery with nonsurgical treatments using Ohio workers’ compensation data. The study reviewed outcomes two years after the surgery (725 surgery patients) or injury (725 nonsurgical patients). Guess who ended up better off?

After 2 Years

Fusion Surgery

No Surgery

Days Off Work



Returned to Work












With such horrendous results, any idea why so many back pain sufferers are even offered fusion surgery?

Bloomberg Newsweek has an idea…

Doctors Are Getting Rich…
Off the Backs of Their Patients

According to an investigative article published in Bloomberg Newsweek earlier this year, spine surgeons are the highest paid members of the medical profession. Their average annual salary of $806,000 is more than triple what pediatricians earn thanks in large part to fusion surgery.

Believe me, I have no problem rewarding someone for hard work. And I’m sure it takes a lot of hard work to get through medical school, internship, and begin a medical practice. But that doesn’t excuse getting paid to offer what is looking more and more like a potentially harmful sham treatment.

Look, even the surgeons themselves recognize that fusion surgery fails to get results.

Spine surgeon Sohail Mirza, who chairs the Department of Orthopaedics at the prestigious Dartmouth Medical School, told the Bloomberg reporters: “It’s amazing how much evidence there is that fusions don’t work, yet surgeons do them anyway, the only one who isn’t benefitting from the equation is the patient.”

So let’s see if we’ve got this…

  • Spinal fusion surgery doesn’t work, meaning…
  • Patients don’t benefit from it, and may be harmed, yet…
  • Doctors are getting rich off the proceeds, so…
  • Avoid spinal fusion surgery.

Ok, I think we’ve got it.

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Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Aching Back Sends More Than 3 Million to Emergency Departments. 2011 Feb 2.

Nguyen TH, et al. Long-term outcomes of lumbar fusion among workers’ compensation subjects: a historical cohort study. Spine. 2011 Feb 15;36(4):320-31.

Deyo RA, et al. Trends, major medical complications, and charges associated with surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis in older adults. JAMA. 2010 Apr 7;303(13):1259-65.

Atlas SJ, et al. Long-term outcomes of surgical and nonsurgical management of lumbar spinal stenosis: 8 to 10 year results from the maine lumbar spine study. Spine. 2005 Apr 15;30(8):936-43.

Martin BI, et al. Are lumbar spine reoperation rates falling with greater use of fusion surgery and new surgical technology? Spine. 2007 Sep 1;32(19):2119-26.

Deyo RA, et al. United States trends in lumbar fusion surgery for degenerative conditions. Spine. 2005 Jun 15;30(12):1441-5; discussion 1446-7.

Martin BI, et al. Reoperation rates following lumbar spine surgery and the influence of spinal fusion procedures. Spine. 2007 Feb 1;32(3):382-7.

Kalichman L, et al. Spinal stenosis prevalence and association with symptoms: the Framingham Study. Spine J. 2009 Jul;9(7):545-50.

S. Samuel Bederman, et al. The who, what and when of surgery for the degenerative lumbar spine: a population-based study of surgeon factors, surgical procedures, recent trends and reoperation rates. Canadian Journal of Surgery. 2009 August; 52(4): 283-290.

Waldman P, Armstrong D. Bloomberg Businessweek. Doctors Getting Rich With Fusion Surgery Debunked by Studies. 2011 Jan 5.

Filed Under: Spinal Fusion
Written By:

Jesse Cannone, CFT, CPRS, MFT

Jesse is the co-founder and visionary CEO of The Healthy Back Institute®, the world-leading source of natural back pain solutions. His mission as a former back pain sufferer is to help others live pain free without surgery and pharmaceuticals.

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17 thoughts on “Fusion Surgery: Blowing the Whistle”

  1. Keith Joiner says:

    I have read your article on lumbar fusion. I have gone to five doctors and they all say I have to have lumbar fusion surgery but I have refused so far but it is looking like I have no other alternative.

    Can you help me any way please. I have no idea what or where to turn. I have applied for five different clinical trials to have an artifical disc but was turned down due to so many issues with my lumbar area.

    I need help but I have no idea what to do. I would be glad to pay for information.

  2. OBrien says:

    Totally agree with the statistics, but workman’s compensation people have other issues besides physical conditions: poor health behaviors (nutrition, weight gain, poor muscle mass, stress) that is either ignored by the companies that work for them due to bottom-line (money) issues, but worse yet, promoting them. I mean if your supervisor don’t care about your health, but only that you do your work, when you get hurt there’s residual resentment and that keep them in pain for a longer period of time and then these doctors seem like a pretty good idea. People who have better work environments and relationships with upper level people who at least give the perception that they care about the workers, will get better faster. Yes, the psychological impact of pain can be different even though the physical aspect of injury is the same. Majority of my population I work with are not fit, have multiple chronic health issues, high stress, so you have to be very aware of not just the physical manifestation of pain, but the psychological one too that keeps the pain going beyond the physical repair.

  3. OBrien says:

    I suppose you have gone through other non-surgical treatments? I’ve known people to heal from a herniated disc (takes up to a year) without having surgery. Are they suggesting you have it because you’re having neurological issues such as weakness in your leg(s), loss of reflexes/sensation? This would be a good reason why they would suggest surgery and not just pain symptom. Have you tried the Nubax Trio? There’s been some good reviews on it. I’ve tried it, but I also don’t have back pain, but it feels good when I do it. I’ve had two people try it (one had back pain and he said it took it away right away, and the other one tried it twice…felt good, but still dealing with back pain).

  4. Dina says:

    Hi, I am in a similar situation as you are, was offered an operation but knowing the risk involved decided not to go for it and use inversion table instead. It was 7 month already of going through inversion therapy (3-4 hours a day) and I can already feel much better, I think it the only way to deal with that kind of illnesses, it takes a few years to heal it completely but during these time you can live with minimum amount of pain and get healed without damaging your body or mind. I would recommend to combine inversion therapy with meditation.
    If you have any questions I will be glad to answer them.

  5. Keith Joiner says:

    No I have not tried the Nubx Trio but I plan to do that. It is about the only thing I have not tried. Inversion theraphy helped a little. Yes I have tried all the treatments one can do. I have had cat scans, Mri’s to verify the issues. I have tried medication, injections, Chriopractic, and other stuff which did very little or nothing.

    I have pain, numbness, and other issues due to DDD, facet syndrome, and modiac changes to my lumbar vertbrae. That is what the Docs tell me. I have studied this the best I can but still do not completely understand all of it.

    Because of this I can’t stand very long, or walk very far. I am too young to be like this and was turned down for any type of disablity.

  6. Chuck S says:

    Keith, other treatments this site recommends are check for and correct muscle imbalances, inversion table, drink more water, reduce stress, inversion table. Check out all of what he has.

  7. Jesse Cannone says:

    OBRIEN: If you don’t like your work environment, either change it or get / create a new one… don’t let the negativity of others drag you down.

    And your point about the mind component is dead on.

    Thanks for posting…

  8. jlt says:

    So whats the alternative.

  9. kent says:

    It’s critical that you exercise to strengthen your back muscles. I’ve had back problems most of my life, but found that when I focused on strengthening my back muscles, the pain has disappeared. Many others have found the same results. Most back pain (in my opinion) is caused by a weak back causing the spine to take on too much load in order to compensate for the weak back muscles.

  10. lillibird says:

    I tried everything possible for 2 yrs, nothing helped! I had degeneration in L4 and L5 and terrible sciatica down my leg, could stant or walk for more than 15 min. I also have mild scoliosis. My original Dr did one minor surgery to loosen the nerve but it didn’t work and he wouldn’t do the disc and fusion surgery till it got worst and tryed all the other treatments for 2 yrs that didn’t work..how much worst was it suppose to get! He finally said just keep taking pain meds..
    I found another nurosurgeon who did another MRI and set me up for minimal invasive surgery (2-3in scars and 2- 1in scars, ..replaced 2 discs and fusion in L5 and L4..6 mos ago and I am doing great and off the pain meds..also take glucosimine liquid and can really feel the difference. Sometimes surgery is the only option after everything else fails.

  11. Kathy H says:

    Kent’s right on… Muscle imbalances are truly the ground floor beginnings of ANY back pain.. Keith J — what have YOU decided to do? and are doing?
    I’ve just had my 2nd hip replacement surgery – because of too-far-gone bone on bone/arthritis etc. (66 yrs old) and I just know even IT was caused by muscle imbalances – for sooo many years. I was just too lazy to do any exercises. I’ve tried the inversion table – but think the Nubx Trio is probably MUCH better. Keith – have you heard of detoxing the body of heavy metals and toxins with a liquid zeolite product by Waiora? sounds like a crazy idea – but by doing a 4 week detox– your own immune system can perform like it was created to do – and could very definitely give you relief in many areas and then could cause the LTBP Heal “N Soothe and Liquid Joint product to work much bettter. Something to check out.

  12. Connie says:

    Keith Joiner: If you haven’t attempted to get Disability a second time, please try again. I know from personal experience. I would have been in the street if I hadn’t done that, since I couldn’t get help anywhere..

    Kathy H: God bless and thanks for much great advice. I will definitely try your suggestions.

  13. Jamie says:

    My mom had a spinal lumbar fusion 15 years ago for
    Degenerative Disc Disease.
    Her fusion didn’t work (failed back surgery syndrome)
    Doctors refuse pain meds due to other people’s
    addictions, and she is always in pain.
    Standing, sitting, walking all end with crying.
    She hasn’t slept more than 2 hrs at a time
    since surgery, can’t tell when she has to
    go to the bathroom and has said she’d rather
    be dead several times.
    Doctors treat her like an addict, a liar and above
    all a mental case.
    She told me a few years ago ” the pain is so much
    worse after than it was before”
    Who do we trust when the doctors put a dollar
    sign before patients health and quality of life?

  14. E.J. Brown says:

    My husband underwent early back surgery fusion when a young student at Oxford. It was highly successful and he was pain free until his death at 84.

    1. stevec says:

      Hey E.J.,

      Very happy to hear your husband had a successful experience with back surgery. Not everyone who has back surgery has a negative outcome, but enough do to warrant making it a last-ditch, final option since those who have failed back surgeries often end up worse than they started. We still recommend reviewing ALL possible options, especially natural, before taking powerful painkilling drugs which have major side effects or undergo surgery. And for those who ultimately choose drugs and/or surgery, please make sure to inform yourself of all risks and get a 2nd or even 3rd opinion before major surgery.

      Best wishes,
      Steve Coombes
      Editorial Director

  15. David Ledford says:

    We have all these people saying surgery is a bad idea. But,can not provide an alternative. You know all about the bad.But,know solutions. I avoided cervical surgery for years. I also have lumbar issues. Ive been through multiple sessions of physical therapy, inversion,weight loss,quit smoking. You name it,i tried it. I DID NOT WANT CUT ON. You have people saying stem cell. Well, i dont have an athletes income or credit rating. And theres alot of waiting for stem cells to grow. And if you have vertebrae sitting ontop of one another. It has to be stretched apart. So what happens,fusion. I didnt realize how bad my neck was. Until a day on my motorcycle and my right arm went numb. 2 wheels and a numb arm. BAD DAY. My neck needed worked on. No cushion left,everything was pushed together,pinching a nerve. And causing my arm to go numb and when not numb.Incredible pain. So,i have a plate/screws and fusion. I still need lumbar done. My insurance dropped me. So,if there is any of those magical solutions. Do tell.

    1. Admin says:

      Hi David,
      Thank you for reading our blog and explaining your pain and conditions. We would like to help and you may find it useful to get yourself our 7 Day Back Pain Cure Book. This book covers treatments for consideration, discussing back pain and possible causes of back pain, pain relief suggestions and other information that may be relevant and helpful to you.

      Please see the link below for more information:-


      Thank you, Our Best Wishes
      Admin(The Healthy Back Institute)

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