There’s a reason you’re scheduled for back surgery.
Perhaps you’ve been told surgery is necessary to repair a herniated disc, fuse some troublesome vertebrae together, or some other reason.
But what you may not have been told is how frequently back surgery is recommended… simply because of where you live.
Let’s put it this way, if you live in Idaho Falls, Idaho, you’re 20 TIMES more likely to have spinal fusion surgery than if you live in Bangor, Maine!
No, this huge disparity has nothing to do with how many surgeons populate the area, what equipment is regionally available, or even what type of insurance patients have.
A study published in Spine earlier this year discovered none of those factors, or even how enthusiastic the patient or family practitioner was about having the procedure, made a significant impact on surgical rates.
But it did find one key piece of data highly correlated with the number of back surgeries in any given region: surgeon enthusiasm.
Which makes sense in a macabre kind of way. After all, who always benefits from back surgery, regardless of whether it’s the most effective treatment for a patient’s back pain? With an average bill of $80,000 per complex fusion surgery you can bet it’s the surgeon who always benefits.
But let’s say for the sake of argument financial gain is NOT the biggest reason surgeons in some regions are especially enthusiastic about recommending surgery. That still doesn’t change back surgery’s abysmal failure rate.
In fact, the fastest growing surgical procedure, fusion surgery, also has the worst track record. Reoperation rates have increased by 40% since the early 1990s, while 11% of those who agree to fusion surgery end up permanently disabled within two years as opposed to only 2% of those who refuse a spinal fusion operation. That’s five and a half times the disability rate. Again, who benefits?
Look, back surgery may indeed be the right solution for your back pain. But more than likely, it’s not. At the very least, before agreeing to go under the knife take a good, hard look at ALL of your options.
Remember the old adage coined by the famous psychologist Abraham Maslow: if you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.
Perhaps that’s the real reason enthusiastic surgeons are twenty times more likely to recommend back surgery. It’s what they know. But that doesn’t mean it’s your only option.
If you’re looking for a non-surgical alternative for your back pain, I have one for you. Make that 101 alternatives.
You’ll find them all in my new book, 101 Back Pain Relief Tricks. Be sure to take a look before going in for that surgery.
Bederman SS, et al. Who’s in the driver’s seat? The influence of patient and physician enthusiasm on regional variation in degenerative lumbar spinal surgery: a population-based study. Spine. 2011 Mar 15;36(6):481-489.
Chen E, Tong KB, Laouri M. Surgical treatment patterns among Medicare beneficiaries newly diagnosed with lumbar spinal stenosis. The Spine Journal: official journal of the North American Spine Society. 2010 Jul;10(7):588-94.
Weinstein JN, et al. United States’ trends and regional variations in lumbar spine surgery: 1992-2003. Spine. 2006 Nov 1;31(23):2707-14.
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.
Written By: Updated: October 5,2011