When muscle relaxers, pain killers, and anti- inflammatory medication cease to supply relief, many patients turn to spinal surgery for their lower back pain. But recent research released in the periodical Spine, the European Spine Journal and research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center point to a higher success rate using alternative treatments such as chiropractic rather than expensive and invasive spinal surgeries. Alternative treatments such as chiropractic, used in combination with other treatments, have revealed a much higher patient satisfaction rate without the surgery.
Let’s look at the Evidence
A recent journal article in Spine, published May 15, 2013, states that a research team led by Dr. Benjamin J. Keeney reviewed workers compensation injuries in the state of Washington to determine if his team could predict which work-related injuries would result in spinal surgery. What the researchers discovered was that the rate of expensive spinal surgery was reduced by a whopping 96.5 percent depending upon whether a spinal surgeon or a chiropractor was consulted first.
Let’s look at the numbers. In the study 1,885 injured workers’ cases were reviewed. If an injured worker was first seen by a surgeon, 42.7 percent of the patients underwent spinal surgery. If an injured worker was first seen by a chiropractor, only 1.5 percent had surgery. It’s a pretty strong argument for those patients with chronic back issues to first try conservative therapies before consulting with a surgeon.
A second study conducted in Oslo University Hospital in Norway, published in the European Spine Journal and led by Dr. Anne Froholdt’s research team followed chronic back pain patients for nine years. Divided into two groups, the first group received lumbar spinal fusion while the second group received cognitive training, and endurance and coordination exercises. Between the two groups, there were no notable differences in the level of pain intensity, spinal muscle strength and fear-avoidance beliefs. Both groups reported improvements.
Less back and leg pain, less emotional distress, and overall improved function was reported; on the other hand, forty-four percent of the lumbar fusion group used medications for pain as compared to only seventeen percent of patients who used non-invasive therapies with medication. As far as patients working while receiving therapy, only 42 percent of patients using alternative methods were out of work as compared to 68 percent who received surgery. Patient dissatisfaction was reported higher among those who opted for surgery. Seventeen percent of patients who had surgery reported feeling dissatisfied with the results as compared to only three percent of non-surgery participants.
As studies often do, more questions emerge rather than answers. So why are billions spent on spinal surgery when the results are no better or worse than the results from conservative therapies like chiropractic? In fact, research reveals that surgery increases work disability rates and patient dissatisfaction.
Not to mention the risks involved in surgery, while many people who get back surgery have no complications, any operation will have some degree of risk, including: reaction to anesthesia or other drugs, bleeding, infection, blood clots, for instance in your legs or lungs, heart attack, stroke, herniated disk, nerve damage, which can lead to weakness, paralysis, pain, sexual dysfunction, or loss of bowel or bladder control.
High Failure Rate and Heavy Costs
Not everyone is as accepting of the 38 to 50 billion dollars spent yearly on surgical treatment for lower back pain. Take a look at the recent health plan analysis conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. After through research and analysis, UPMC has implemented an initiative that focuses on treatment first for chronic lower back pain, unless it’s a medical emergency, prior to any determination of spinal surgery. Their policy insists that a three-month course of conservative treatment must be followed first and include physical therapy, chiropractic therapy and medication along with their coaching program. These requirements must be completed before surgery can even be considered.
With chiropractic care, many patients have successfully conquered their lower chronic back pain. It’s successful because it focuses on realigning the spine while increasing movement through normal joint function. This procedure reduces muscle and ligament tensions so that nerve irritation and inflammation can diminish.