Surgery for Back Pain? Check the odds

by Ken Malloy

I spoke with a nurse today, who has actually witnessed spine surgery. “I’ve done a few backs”, he told me, casually.

Brian, a 42 year old male nurse from Missouri called me with questions about Dr. Sarno’s program. He circulates throughout the operating rooms at a major medical center, running the OR’s from the background.

“Spinal surgery always makes me uneasy”, he explained. “Other abdominal procedures not so much. It’s watching the surgeon working so close to the spinal cord that freaks me out.”

Of course, I had to ask why.

After three back surgeries, Brian’s father still suffers from horrible back pain.  Brian has chronic back pain, too. No wonder watching spinal surgery is upsetting to him! He was quick to quote statistics about the success rate of back operations:

Only 50% of back surgeries that people have are effective. And, only 25% are very effective.

“If I look at the odds”, Brian told me, “I figure I have a 1 in 4 chance of becoming pain-free.”

Well, I decided to do a little research, myself. Here’s what I came up with:

One of the most common spinal procedures performed on 300,000 people a year in this country, is the “diskectomy” which involves cutting through the bony part of the vertebrae to remove the jellylike substance inside. It is believed that this protruding or herniated disk material is pressing on the nerve and causing the pain.

This is a wasteful and unnecessary activity. I am not just quoting Dr. Sarno here!

According to the journal “Spine”, America is undergoing an unnecessary back surgery epidemic of such proportions that surgeons here perform diskectomies forty percent more often than other Western nations and five times more often than England and Scotland.

In 2005, researchers for the Department of Veterans Affairs studied the results of the estimated 250,000 back surgeries performed in the U.S. each year,  They targeted surgical treatment for the common complaint of “low back pain”.

Their conclusion: most of the operations were unnecessary!

With an average hospital cost of $11,000 per patient, they estimated the costs  of unnecessary back surgeries  in the U.S. at $484 million annually!

Clearly, if you subscribe to what Dr. Sarno is teaching, then you understand why back surgery does not cure back pain. Because the cause of the pain is psychological and has nothing to do with spinal abnormalities!

Well then, why does it work sometimes? Dr. Sarno believes that surgery is a very powerful placebo. That is, the therapeutic effect is due to the power of suggestion.

Why is surgery such a power placebo?

Stay tuned for that!