How commonly is back surgery deemed a ‘failure’?
Commonly enough that they have created a specific diagnosis for it: Failed Back Surgery Syndrome.
Failed Back Surgery Syndrome is defined as “spinal pain persisting despite surgical intervention or appearing after surgical intervention for spinal pain originally in the same topographical location.”
In fact, up to 40% of patients have experienced continued pain after lumbar spine surgery.
This is a problem, considering that there are roughly 500,000 lumbar spine surgeries performed in the United States each year.
Do the math- that means nearly 200,000 low back surgeries are eventually deemed a failure.
Even worse: if you have repeated back surgery, your risk of failure increases.
Since the failure rate is so high, this must mean that there are a lot of surgeries performed that aren’t necessary.
So Why Do We Continue To Spend So Much Time And Money On Back Surgery If The Failure Rate Is So High?
If you have had back pain (which is likely since you are reading this blog), you know it can be debilitating, excruciating pain. It can impact all aspects of you life, and ultimately, your happiness.
Whether you have been dealing with mild but chronic back pain for a long time or it was excruciating from the start, it is very easy to listen to the well-intentioned, well-respected surgeon sitting in front of you. It probably took you weeks to even get this appointment, and now that you’re there, you’re ready for solutions.
When the surgeon tells you that surgery is the best course of action to take your pain away and get you back to living your life, odds are, you will listen. Or maybe their first course of action is is to prescribe pain medication, or injections. If they make you believe that it will take your pain away, you will be happy to oblige. If it takes away the excruciating and debilitating pain, you will be happy to do it.
Who wouldn’t want to get out of pain in an instant? If a quick pill, little needle, or a small incision can eliminate the pain you have been dealing with, you will be quick to sign on!
However, what the surgeon fails to mention are the side effects of each option. They also don’t mention that none of those options are guaranteed to get rid of the pain.
Another fallacy I hear is that if you have had one successful surgery, then the next one will be a success as well. But, as previously mentioned, the more back surgeries you have, the more likely they are to fail.
ARE ALL BACK SURGERIES BAD?
I can see why people think that this article is bashing back surgery and encouraging EVERYONE avoid them. That is only partially true.
There are times that back surgeries are warranted. Some examples are:
-You had a major trauma, like a motor vehicle accident, that has resulted in major damage to your spine, leaving it unstable.
-Severe neurological symptoms due to nerve entrapment. Some symptoms would be loss of bowel/bladder control.
-Progressively worsening symptoms into the extremities such as loss of sensations or motor function.
-Absolutely no relief of symptoms with medication, rest, ice/heat, or change of position
Keep in mind that these cases are rare, but very serious and do require surgery. When these symptoms present, it is rather emergent to decompress your nerve before permanent damage occurs.
Non-Specific or Mechanical Back Pain
However, 80% of the time, back pain is labeled as non-specific or mechanical back pain. This is not sinister and surgery is not recommended for this group.
Non-specific or mechanical back pain can be acute or chronic- most of the time it just comes and goes. You could have some nerve pain, numbness, or shooting pain down your legs- but this is different from the symptoms listed above.
The pain you feel is not all in your head. The pain can come from soft tissue structures like your discs, muscles, joints, etc.
Here Is The Tricky Part…
When you get an MRI to find out “what’s causing” your back pain, you will often find some sort of degenerative disc disease, stenosis, bulging discs, etc. You will go back to your physician who will try to explain how this image most certainly shows what is irritated and causing the problem…
But that is not always true either. An MRI is a still image and does not show pain. What is shown on the image might not be causing the pain you are experiencing. However that is an article for another time- to read more on that subject, you can check out our blog from September with 5 Tips To Treat Back Pain On Your Own And Avoid Surgery.
That is why you can’t rely on imaging to be the deciding factor of whether or not you have surgery. Or to be the reason to get that injection. Once you start going down the rabbit hole of medical interventions that don’t work, you are headed towards a surgery that will likely have the same outcome.
This is why so many back surgeries fail. Surgeons want to cut you open and mess with the “abnormal” findings on the MRI that are actually quite normal after all.
Should You Have Surgery?
Back surgery can be very costly- and not just financially. It can have mental and emotional costs as well. Will you be able to move like you used to? What happens if the pain doesn’t go away with the surgery? Will you need more surgeries after this?
That is a lot to risk when up to 40% of back surgeries are deemed to be failures.
Do your due diligence and ensure surgery is truly your best option before submitting to its irreversible effects.
If you are dealing with back pain and want to learn more, start by downloading our FREE report (8 Tips To End Back Pain Permanently Without Painkillers).
And if you want to consult with the back pain experts, give us a call today at (480) 452-9191!