Today I’d like to return to a subject that we haven’t discussed in a while—back surgery. More specifically, I think we should review some pretty startling and informative statistics surrounding the state of back surgery in this country. You might find that what’s happening to back pain patients is both excessive and disturbing. I also want to be sure that every back pain sufferer is aware of the various treatments available as well as the success rates of back pain surgeries. Seeking knowledge about your condition is the first step in finding the very best in rehabilitation and pain management in NJ.
To be even more specific, let’s discuss spinal fusion surgery. This procedure literally fuses together two of the vertebrae that make up the spine. It is usually performed on the vertebrae of the lumbar spine (lower back) although some patients undergo fusion in the bones of the cervical spine (neck). This purpose of this surgery is to immobilize the vertebrae in order to relieve pain. It is often used for patients suffering from spinal stenosis, a painful narrowing of the spinal canal that is usually associated with age-related degeneration.
A study of more than 30,000 Medicare patients found that the number of patients receiving these types of surgeries had increased by 1,400 percent between 2002 and 2007. In addition to the traumatic nature of surgery in general, spinal fusion surgery carries a number of serious risks, including damage to the nerves, delayed paralysis, infection, and the inherent risks associated with anesthesia.
What’s worse than all of this is that back surgeries in general are often unsuccessful. In fact, the World Orthopaedic Organisation has reported a 53% failure rate for low back pain surgery.
These numbers make me wonder what’s really going on, mostly because our office has had tremendous success in treating back pain patients with far more conservative efforts. For patients that don’t respond to chiropractic, PT, or acupuncture, our office has incorporated a team of medical doctors who are specialists in pain management to perform a variety of minimally invasive interventional procedures. It appears to me that many patients are skipping a number of steps in the pain management and rehabilitation process—steps that could provide the crucial solution to their painful condition, without surgery.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to be aware of your options, and to be educated on your specific back pain issue. Every practitioner in our office—from our team of physical therapists to our Medical Director—wants patients to be knowledgeable and proactive in their own recovery.
We are conditioned to trust experts. Most of us would never attempt to fix our cars ourselves; we simply bring them to the mechanic and hope for the best. When it comes to medical advice, studies show that patients are extremely trusting. For example, a recent look into this phenomenon (according to a 2010 Gallup Health and Healthcare Survey) found that 70% of Americans feel confident in their doctor’s advice and don’t feel the need to seek out a second opinion. Older patients (those more likely to suffer from back pain) are even more confident in their doctors. The poll showed that 85% of patients 65 and older were completely confident in the opinions of their doctors.
In some ways, this is good news; at Monmouth Pain and Rehabilitation, we want our patients to trust us. In fact, we work every day to ensure that we’re deserving of that level of faith. However, when it comes to something as serious as surgery, knowing the facts is really important. Even more so, knowing all of your options is crucial—and in fact may be the essential factor in helping you to avoid surgery or, in the rare cases in which it’s required, make the best possible choices about surgery. (Most experts agree that surgery is necessary for around 5% of back pain patients.)
For some medical offices, surgery is the next logical step after physical therapy and/or chiropractic have been unsuccessful in resolving back pain. Some patients experience pain that restricts the ability to move, thereby making PT or chiropractic impossible. At Monmouth Pain and Rehab, treatment does not stop here. Instead, we would very likely consider using certain minimally invasive procedures, including Epidural Steroid Injections, Trigger Point Injections, Coccyx Injections, Facet Joint Injections, and Sacroiliac Injections. These make use of a long-lasting steroid and/or anesthetic numbing agent. All are performed in-house and sometimes done with the guidance of fluoroscopy or ultrasound. We also offer procedures that require anesthesia (such as Radiofrequency Ablation or Discograms).