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Is Back Surgery a Good Idea?


Posted on Apr 25, 2014

Numerous Americans suffer from chronic back pain related issues. Their physicians often suggest that they undergo back surgery, but this is not always the best idea.

CBS news reports on the controversial nature of back surgeries.

Many Americans are now getting spinal fusion surgeries but some of the patients getting these expensive procedures might not even need them.

The controversy surrounding spinal surgery has been steadily increasing for the past decade. CBS explains, “Back pain is one of the most common reasons Americans go to the doctor, and one of the fastest growing treatments is spinal fusion surgery. From 2001 to 2011, the number of spinal fusions in U.S. hospitals increased 70 percent, making them more frequently performed than even hip replacements. The growth has been attributed in part to improved technology, an aging population, and a greater demand among older people for mobility. But it has also sparked a debate over whether some surgeons are performing spinal fusions that are unnecessary and potentially dangerous. The procedure fuses together two or more vertebrae often with metal rods and screws, and can result in paralysis or life-threatening complications.”

Patients often do not know whether they truly need the surgery, how risky the procedure is or whether their surgeon is as experienced as he purports to be.

CBS looked into these issues, “We looked into some of the highest volume surgeons and found some were respected with unblemished records. Others were banned or suspended from hospitals or settled lawsuits alleging unnecessary procedures. All of them are still operating. The data shows that a small group of doctors performed these procedures far more frequently than their peers. While the national average was 46 surgeries over the two-year period, some did more than 460. While the average spine surgeon performed them on 7 percent of patients they saw, some did so on 35 percent. (Averages exclude doctors that performed 10 or fewer of these fusions. Medicare redacted those figures to protect patient privacy.)”

CBS warns that patients need to try to be their own best advocates. The study shows that there are many surgeons who are performing spinal fusion surgeries due to the financial incentive; thus it is important to get second and third opinions before actually going through with the procedure.

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