But that number is still a small portion of the people with back pain, estimated by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality at 27 million people per year, collectively spending $30.3 billion on pain easing treatments.
No matter how you slice it, people are going to the hospital and opting for back surgery at record numbers. Consider:
- Back pain is second only to childbirth for hospitalizations.
- Back pain is the second leading cause for physician visits.
- Back pain is the number one cause of long-term disability.
- Back pain is the most prevalent chronic medical condition.
But are hospitalizations and surgeries the ideal first step in treatment for back pain? Not only are there far better first options in many cases – like chiropractic care – but surgery but the risks of complications – and even death – need to be taken under strong advisement.
The cold, hard facts about hospitals and back surgery:
A recent study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery pinpointed several risk factors for complications and even death after having spine surgery. They analyzed data from the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program database from 2005 to 2008, consisting of 3,475 spine surgery patients in all, who underwent back surgery for conditions like disc herniation, spinal stenosis, and degenerative disc disease.
The researchers were looking to identify patient complications within 30 days of having surgery. The major complications they discovered included deep vein thrombosis, sepsis, deep wound infections, and the necessity for follow-up surgeries. Minor complications included urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and superficial wound infections. So what did they find?
The death rate for patients in that group was .03 percent – 10 deaths out of 3,475 back surgery patients.
7.6 percent of all patients (263 out of 3475) experienced major or minor complications up to 30 days after the surgery.
Together, that’s more than one out of every thirteen patients who ended up with complications, further surgeries, or even deceased.
And while those mortality rates may seem shocking, when we look at a larger sample size across all conditions, the data shows that 1.14 percent of U.S. patients who undergo surgery pass away. Just as disturbing, the risk of minor complications is 18% and major setbacks around 8%.
In fact, the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement reports that approximately 2.5 million to 3.5 million patients each year experience “unintended harm” resulting from surgeries. Of course we’re not even talking about the epidemic of addiction to prescription painkillers that are almost always used for back pain and post surgery.
The grim reality is that every year, medical errors kill more than 200,000 people in the United States.
Despite the risks, back surgeries may not help as much as expected:
If these back surgeries solved the issue, then the risks may be worth it. But in many cases, pain relief provided by back surgeries is only temporary, and patients find themselves in the same condition – or worse – only years or months down the road.
A recent study in the journal Spine reveals that in many cases surgery can even leave patients in more pain long-term. By reviewing medical records of 1,495 people from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation database who had diagnosis of disc degeneration, disc herniation or radiculopathy, compared two groups: those who had vertebrae fusion surgery to try and cure their back pain, and those who opted for other non-surgical treatment. After two years, they found that:
Only 26% of those who had surgery returned to work, while 67% of those who avoided surgery returned to work.
Of course, back surgery has a time and a place where it’s absolutely the best option, and helps countless people. In fact, endoscopic or the traditional lumbar-disc repair does relieve lower-back pain 85 to 90% percent of the time initially.
However, the benefits of pain relief often wear off or diminish over time – or reverse course. As we stated before, the number of patients who experience a return to back pain, suffer complications, have to go under the knife again, or even die, is simply too significant to ignore.
Chiropractic care IS surgery prevention:
The good news is that chiropractic care is an essential and effective first step in treating back pain, helping qualified patients avoid risk surgery. Long considered a natural method to prevent back surgery by health care providers, chiropractic has now reached mainstream relevance – and even preference.
In fact, when the Journal of the American Medical Association recently published its guidelines for low back pain, they recommended that back pain sufferers go visit a chiropractor before ever considering surgery.
The AMA’s data shows that by utilizing chiropractic care:
- Back surgeries could be avoided at a 31% rate
- Hospitalizations could be reduced by 43%
- Total hospital days were reduced by 58%
- Pharmaceutical costs were reduced by 51%
- Per capital hospital and medical costs were reduced by 15%.
Of course chiropractic care is no silver bullet, but in a managed treatment plan that includes rest, weight loss, exercise, a better diet, and non-addictive painkillers, chiropractic is an invaluable safe guard against surgical risks – and a better long-term reliever of back pain.