Effectiveness of Back Surgery Questioned

The San Francisco Chronicle published a PRWeb story on May 29, 2013 with the headline of, “Recent Research Questions the Effectiveness of Back Surgery.” The article cites two recent studies questioning the effectiveness of surgery for spinal problems. The article starts with the ominous fact that, “An estimated 38 to 50 billion dollars is spent yearly for the surgical treatment of lower back pain in the United States.”

In one of the studies, a research team reviewed workers compensation injuries in the state of Washington to see if they could determine which work injuries would result in back surgeries. The results of this study were published in the May 15, 2013 issue of the journal Spine with the title, “Early Predictors of Lumbar Spine Surgery After Occupational Back Injury: Results From a Prospective Study of Workers in Washington State.”

According to the article, the study showed that of the 1,885 injured workers in this study, 174 (9.2%) had low back surgery within 3 years of their injury. However, the researchers discovered that the rate of surgery depended greatly on what type of doctor these injured workers saw first. If an injured worker was first seen by a surgeon, 42.7% would result in surgery. However, if they were first seen by a chiropractor, only 1.5% would have surgery. The rate of having an expensive surgery was reduced by 96.5%, just by the choice of going to a chiropractor instead of a medical physician first.

The second study conducted in Oslo, Norway, looked at two groups of people with back problems. One group received surgery while the other group got other conservative treatment (not including chiropractic). The results of this study showed that there was no benefit for the group that received expensive surgery over the group that did not.

In response, Dr. J. G. Moellendorf, DC, ND, LCP, a naturopath and chiropractor, asks, “Why would we spend billions of dollars yearly on spinal surgery that has no better results than conservative therapies, while having increased disability rates and higher dissatisfaction with results?”

In response to this study, the Southern California University of Health Sciences issued a statement noting, “This important study was conducted by a collaboration of prestigious institutions, including Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, University of Washington School of Public Health, University of Washington School of Medicine, Ohio State University College of Public Health and the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Back injuries are the most prevalent occupational injury in the U.S., and care is commonly associated with one of the most costly treatments – spine surgery. Chiropractic is clearly the most appropriate first treatment option for patients with back pain, and this study confirms the value.”

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