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Stop the Surgical Hype!

Started by CarolsCritters on 01/12/2011 11:15pm

I am tired of doctors telling everyone they need surgery! Why do people fall for this so easily? I don't care that with today's technology we do have a lot of surgical options. Why in the world would you volunteer for surgery when there are so many other less invasive options?

I am only 52 yrs old, have 4 bulging discs + 1 torn disc in Lumbar, and we never even did an MRI of the rest of the spine, although xrays revealed moderate to severe OA in entire spine+ neck + hips + hands, along with narrowing of spinal canal and nerve pinching/sciatica. I am determined to fight this without a needle to the spine or surgery, so I am seeing a pain mgmt specialist who has me on Tramadol and Zyflamend. Tramadol is a low grade RX pain reliever which seems to work quite well, and the Zyflamend is an herbal anti-inflammatory. I had also tried Limbrel, an RX food product which targets arthritis but I had a reaction to it so had to stop that one. I also read as much as I can about natural anti-inflammatories like black cherry juice, celery seed, turmeric and more. Plus I bought a portable TENS unit, a memory foam mattress(love it), a lumbar/pregnancy/candy cane shaped pillow (no I'm not pregnant and it works wonders for the lower back), and I use moist heat therapy when I've overdone things that day.

So the point in my rambling on in this post is this..... stop thinking that surgery is the best option! It is NOT in most cases. One must remember that surgeons are in business to make money too, and the human body is made to heal itself whenever possible. Readjust your daily activities and lifestyle, try some alternative treatments before opting for the knife! Going under the knife is invasive & dangerous with a risk of infection and a risk of being paralyzed even with only a spinal injection. Even with the damage I have in my spine and other joints, I am living life without surgery, at least for now.

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6 Responses


Thank you for your wise words against back surgery! Back surgery is necessary after traumatic accidents where the spine is severed (horseback riding, auto & motorcycle, etc), but not always after those accidents.

Back surgery is NOT a treatment for back pain. I have known or heard of more people than I can count who were talked into back surgery for back pain (serious but not totally debilitating) and have ended up bedridden and in chronic, severe pain. My rheumatologist sent me to an orthopedist to discuss having my knees replaced and the ortho guy said he wouldn't touch my knees until I had back surgery. I hadn't even mentioned back pain; it's there and it's bad, but it won't be improved by surgery. Obviously, that was the last time I saw that clown. I took the same films (x-rays, CTs, MRIs) to an orthopedist on the board of directors of our local hospital and without looking at the films he said "no back surgery." He was at a complete loss as to why anyone would thing back surgery would help me and told me not to have it under any circumstances (unless I fell off a horse, which I never did). I don't remember if I'd walked into his office on heavy metal crutches or gone in in my electric wheelchair, but I was fairly straight (I've got mild scoliosis, but most folks do) and had use of my arms and legs. (There are serious joint problems, but they don't originate in my back.)

Back surgery is an absolute last resort and should be done only after consulting with three or four reputable orthopedists. Even then, keep in mind that it has about a 5% success rate!!

Bulging discs bulge, but cutting them won't improve the situation. They eventually respond to rest and physical therapy. They don't heal fast, but they will heal. Once you get a disc to heal, remember that it's been injured and take it easy on heavy lifting -- and try to avoid falling off ladders and other silly accidents.

Most broken or cracked bones will heal if immobilized for 4-8 weeks; cutting and then ramming nails or screws into the bones is not the primary treatment!

Unfortunately, some joint and bone pain is chronic and nothing, surgical or otherwise, will help. I've got lupus and fibromyalgia (I'd never heard of fibromyalgia until I was diagnosed with it) and I hurt all the time. Ten years ago, my internist told me that if I didn't retire on disability within a year, I'd probably die within two years (she doesn't mince words, but she's kept me alive for 15 years!). Social Security eventually agreed that I was disabled (it often takes a while to convince them you're really sick because a lot of folks fake disability.

I saw a note from a woman whose doctor was billing Social Security for procedures he hadn't done and generally being an asshole. If this happens to you: 1) first, find another pain doctor; 2) report the doctor to Social Security for billing them for procedures he hadn't performed. Don't discuss it with the doctor, don't threaten him. Get another pain doctor before you do anything else. You don't need to hire a lawyer. You haven't been damaged by fake bills, but the taxpayers and everyone on Social Security has been damaged. Social Security has lawyers on staff who will put together a case and hang the doctor out to dry.

I've been in chronic pain all my life. Even as an infant, I remember pain: earaches, blinding headaches, then true migraines that were constant, endometriosis that caused me to pass out [it took THREE surgeries to diagnosed it], and I had no medical care until I was on my own. I gave up and had a hysterectomy/oophrectomy at 39 because I couldn't take it anymore; my timing was fortunate as one of my fallopian tubes had wrapped around my bowel and it was ready to tear open, but was caught in time. This was after several GYNs told me I was just a typical woman complaining about pain that really wasn't that bad. It really was that bad and had been since I was ten years old. The endometriosis got fixed but the migraines stayed (fortunately the last two doctors effectively lysed all the adhesions from the years of endometriosis so I had no problems with bowel blockage).

I'd been having trouble walking and thought it was growths from endometriosis pressing on nerves, but it didn't improve after the surgery. One hip rather suddenly could no longer support my weight and that was a three-ring circus. After it dropped me down the stairs, I went to the doctor who got a plain x-ray. The film looked fine, but I still couldn't walk. Her file clerk (he thought he was a medical secretary) told me he would not relay my messages to the doctor because he'd read the radiology report and he knew I was just making up the pain. Since I don't let folks push me around, and this was at a big medical school and hospital, I called the director of medicine and asked his assistant (who was a medical secretary) what I could do. She said she'd talk to the boss and see. That afternoon, my internist called me and said she'd decided I could go see a rheumatologist, but that I shouldn't expect him to find anything because there was nothing wrong with my hip. The problem with my hip doesn't show on plain x-rays until about a week before your hip breaks. (The rheumatologist was actually the director of medicine!) He saw me within a couple of days and diagnosed the problem in less than ten minutes: bilateral avascular necrosis of my hips and knees. Even without an MRI, he could tell from physical exam what was wrong. For those fortunate enough not to have heard of it, avascular necrosis means that the bone marrow -- and the bones themselves -- are dying. They tried a procedure called a "core decompression", where they hollow out the head of the femur and let new marrow grow, hoping it will have healthy circulation when it heals. There are several different ways the surgery is done. Surgery is frequently very successful, but in my case, it was not; it actually increased the pain in my hip. After all those years of pain with no analgesics, one day I hit the wall.

I simply could no longer live with the pain. I called the rheumatologist, who could tell from my voice t that I was at the end of my rope. He found a couple of pain clinics; the first one was not good. (They misread the x-ray & radiology report the same way my internist had and wanted to do a procedure on my sacral process, which wasn't in pain. I vetoed that idea and called the rheumatologist to get the name of another pain clinic. The next place was good and tried a number of procedures but eventually realized that morphine was the only effective treatment for me. After several years, the anesthesiologist in charge retired and the new anesthesiologist was a horse's ass. He told me that whatever was wrong with me should have healed in the six years they'd been treating me and simply refused to do anything but wean me off of morphine, and wean me off FAST.

I found another pain clinic and they were great but they eventually decided they wanted to concentrate on physical therapy, not pain relief with drugs (which they have a right to do). They gave all their chronic pain patients a list of local clinics that treated chronic pain and several months to find another clinic. The new clinic I ended up at decided that my morphine dose was way too low (I'd thought so, but I'm just the person in pain) and I have much better pain relief now; there are days when it still hurts like hell -- today we've got a snowstorm coming through and my back, hands, and feet are miserable, but that's a short-term problem.

It was strange when I suddenly could no longer fight through the pain, but it had been a lot of years of fighting. (My mother said only "crazy people" got headaches, refused to discuss cramps, and declined to get me medical care for a 2d degree sunburn that covered 90% of my body (the lupus appeared rather suddenly), for full-body poison ivy, or for bronchitis and double-pneumonia; I was able to get to the local Free Clinic for the pneumonia, where the doctor wanted to have my mother arrested, but the other problems (and many more) were just tough luck. I guess i developed a high tolerance for pain.

Don't give up. Call your local hospital and get a list of doctors who treat pain as well as a list of rheumatologists. Make appointments to meet and talk to the doctors -- no to get examined, but to see if you and the doctor communicate well, because if you can't communicate, nothing good will come from the relationship. We are all different and relate to doctors differently.

Do NOT go to an orthopedist first for back -- or any joint -- pain unless you know you broke a bone; go to a rheumatologist. Orthopedists are surgeons and think in terms of surgery as the most effective treatment for anything; rheumatologists treat you with drugs, physical therapy, and other therapies less invasive than those involving knives, saws, hammers, and screwing pieces of metal to your bones. (These may be the correct treatment for your problem, but let a rheumatologist try more gentle treatments first.)

Don't get discouraged if the first couple of doctors are bad matches; there's someone out there who you can relate to.

The worst problem I have is with the head of anesthesiology at my local hospital. He's convinced I'm just trying to get high. My appendix went south after years of other surgeries but he and the surgeon made me wait for five days before they agreed to remove the organ. He'd ordered that my analgesic dose be dropped dramatically, so in addition to pain from a hot appendix, I was in opiate withdrawal. Fun, fun, fun.

The surgeon told the guy that my appendix was "pink and perfectly healthy" so I woke after surgery to the jerk sitting in my room waiting for me to wake so he could scream at me. Over the weekend, the pathologist examined my appendix. My "pink and perfectly healthy" appendix was indeed hot and on Monday, I was still vomiting and in bad pain. My internist apparently ripped the anesthesiologist a new one, but she was justified. She wrote me a script for an extra opiate because I looked so miserable. (Both she and the surgeon wanted me to take six weeks of to recover from the surgery, but their screwing around for five days had used the last of my leave and I was already on LWOP, so I told them I was going to work the next day. They were not happy to hear that, but I really didn't have any choice -- especially if they wanted to get paid!)

Remember that there is no hurry to operate on bones in most cases. (Again, if you're thrown by a horse or tossed through a windshield, there is a great hurry to stabilize the spine and prevent further injury to the spinal cord.) Plain old back pain needs to be treated with heat, physical therapy, and any of a number of other non-invasive methods of treatment. Besides opiates, there are a number of other medications that can help: antidepressants, some cardiac drugs, some anticonvulsants, skeletal muscle relaxants (Robaxin, not Valium), and a number of other drugs, and sometimes massage (by a physical therapist, not a hooker) or traction. There are lots of things that need to be tried, so don't lose hope!

And always remember that you are not just a patient, you're a consumer. If you don't like the treatment you're getting, fire the physical therapist or the doctor and hire someone else. It's your body and your money (at least the money you pay to the insurance company every month), so make sure you're getting what you're paying for!


Well Spiner Man it's pretty obvious you earn a living in the back pain industry! And how did you conduct a full medical diagnosis from my short post? You have no idea who I have seen or what I've been through, how many surgeons I've consulted with or how much research I've done regarding this topic.

My point was that too many people rush to the operating table because they believe surgery will fix the problem, and the MAJORITY of the time the surgery doesn't work or produces additional problems. Trying to make me sound like a pill addict doesn't change the truth about surgery.


Carol - At some point each person has to make a decision on what to do. I recently had a C5-C6 Anterior Cervical Discectomy with Arthoplasty (replacement disc). The disc was herniated with left protrusion pinching the nerve - talk about pain/numbnes etc. It started over a year and a half ago, it put me out of work for a week here - a week there, it got to a point all I could do is basically go to work on meds. and come home - lie in bed etc. Eventually I was referred to see a surgeon and he explained what was wrong. He actually told me surgery should be my last resort and lets try to fix this with conservative measuers. He referred me to a pain management center. After months of trying what they had to offer - nerve blocks etc. I found myself having to make a decision: Do I live the rest of my life like this or chance the surgery? You gotta understand I'm 39 years old and I have a 10 year old son - the quality of life I was living, was not good. It just doesn't effect me, it effects my wife and son. What do say when your son asks you to play catch with the Lacrosse ball or play basketball - I can't pal maybe tomorrow or your wife wants to have or go to a party and you can't. They sacrificed a lot for me. So, keep in mind any good surgeon will tell you surgery is the last resort. I had mine on Dec. 7th 2010 - so far so good. I made the choice, not the Dr.. I knew there was a 50/50 shot - better or worse. It wasn't the pain that made the decision, enough pain medicine works, it was me and my family's quality of life - the pinched nerve wasn't going away.

On another note, I've had lower back problems too (since 1993) - central herniation L5-S1, bulging discs 3-4, 4-5 etc. That has not forced me to make that decision yet - maybe someday. You sound like your into natural healing etc.. Take a look at "Youngliving.com", check out the "Rain Drop Technique" I actually had this done by a Native American on a Reservation and I gotta say - It worked.

As far as Surgeons being in business to make money - sure they are. But so isn't everbody - 6 weeks of Physical Therapy isn't cheap. Matter of fact when I went through therapy and got the insurance statements they billed it under the highest ranked Therapist. She wasn't even the person that I saw and they said she gave me the therapy. She's gotta nice house though.


Thanks Slick007 for your post, you sound like a sensible person who had tried everything else before going under the knife. I'm not being critical of everyone who chooses surgery, I've simply read 100's of posts where people are immediately jumping into surgery without questioning the doctors, and then posting that they are in worse shape than before. Plus I've talked with several dozen people locally who opted for surgery, about 80% of them said it did nothing for them even after 1-2 yrs of aftercare.

You're right, you are very young to have experienced such injury and pain and it must be very frustrating when you're trying to work and raise a family. I know for me I'm still wondering how I went from being Wonder Woman for 50 yrs to all this damage and pain in every joint for the past 2 yrs. Pain doc said it was "bad luck"! But I know after severely spraining my lower back & being sent to physical therapy, inflammation started spreading like wild fire and it didn't stop until it hit almost every section of my spine and body. You mentioned your P.T. costs, funny how you too took a good look at your bill, I did the same and realized some games were being played there too. Not only that, they told me they were in the Humana PPO network and after 13 visits at $135 each (after Humana discount) I found out they were not in network, therefore I only got 50% credit towards my $5,000 deductible.

I know there are some surgeons whose intentions are good and their expertise works wonders, but it's a gamble, and I hope more people will do their research. I'm happy to hear your's went well so far, I truly hope you will be back to pain free living. Haven't heard of the rain drop treatment before, sounds interesting, I'll go check out the YoungLiving site right now!


Sorry to butt in. I have found this discussion really interesting as it gives lots of different points of view. I am not sure where you live, but I am in the UK, and my GP said they have cut down a lot on doing surgery for disc problems due to the chance of it just re-occurring somehwre else in the spine. He said it is much better to treat the cause, if at all possible.

I feel quite lucky as from what I have read there is a chance of my discs settling down on their own, but I have read this rarely happens in people in the older age group (sorry!) as the discs can dry up. I would not like to ever have surgery as being from a nursing background I have seen people having various operetions and quite frankly it is the thought of having a general anaesthetic that scares me the most. My friend broke his back and even he was kept in a back brace for six months, before they finally resorted to surgery.

I think cost also has a lot to do with it over here, as most people are treated on the NHS, not through insurance policies. I have heard really promising things about Chiropracters, sadly I can not afford this and I don't think they are covered on the NHS. But I think this may help in my case as I have a tilted pelvis, which I believe may be linked to the back problems.

At the moment I am just trying do keep mobile by doing a few physio exercises and am keeping topped up on Tramadol and Codeine, as well as taking Gabapentin and Celebrex every day anyway as I have Fibromyalgia, which luckliy is staying pretty good at the moment. I went to a pain clinic once and the Doctor gave me Capsacin Cream which is meant to interact with the nerve pathways in some way I think. I could not tolerate it personally as it can cause a bad burning sensation for some people which it did for me. But it might be worth a try.

I hope you find some relief along the way.


Hi Melcoles, thanks for your post! While this link is not very active, it is nice to hear that someone appreciates the info that has been shared. It is interesting for me to hear your point about how docs in UK are not doing spinal surgery so much. It seems like here in the U.S. there is a big contest going for doc's to do the most back surgeries. The surgeons offices look like cow fields at feeding time! I also think Americans have become too comfortable with going under the knife, whether it's spinal or cosmetic. I'm like you, I'm not going under general anesthesia unless it's a crisis!

I posted a list of home remedies that have worked for me on another link that another person had written. But I'll type them here too in hopes that one of them might work for you too. I am not listing Chiropractor on here because I had gone to a good one for a couple of years but once my MRI revealed bulging & torn discs + the narrowing of the spinal canal there was NO way I was going to let someone twist my spine. Also, couple years ago my hip slipped out of her arm and I could barely walk for 3 wks, and to this day I wonder if any damage was done. Soooo....here is my list of home treatments:

1~ TENS unit - Electrode patches are placed where your pain is and the unit emits electrical impulses to stimulate the bunched up nerves. It works wonders for me when I have ongoing pain in a certain area. I also got one with a muscle stimulator for when my sciatica acts up and the muscles need a jolt. You can order one on the internet without a prescription, I got mine for $59 US at MedicalProductsOnline.com, they also sell replacement patches, as well as some larger higher priced units, but this one is portable and can carry in your pocket. BTW, Chiropractors use TENS units on their patients.
2~ Get a lumbar/pregnancy pillow, there are several shapes and sizes. Most are shaped like a candy cane and support head, neck, shoulders, back, knees & ankles. It takes all the pressure off your hips and spine. I ordered mine from Walmart.com & my newest from Amazon. I like my 1st one the best, its about 11 ft long & takes up most of a queen sized bed. Been using it for about 2 yrs now.
3~ Try your best to get rid of inflammation in the body, that is what contributes to degeneration and pain. I take Zyflamend, an herbal anti-inflammatory I order on iherb.com. You can read reviews there as well. My pain doc is the one who originally told me about it. And I alternate other supplements such as black cherry juice, celery seed & Juice Festiv (fruit/veggie anti-oxidants). Also my primary doc said to cut out red meat but I haven't done that yet.
4~ I bought a memory foam mattress and it has helped my night pain tremendously. I bought mine at Walmart! Don't even know if you have Walmart in UK? But you can order online. I got the 8 inch mattress & then added an additional 4 inch topper later so I can flip it occassionally. People complain about them holding in body heat but I haven't had that problem, all I know is it takes pressure off the joints.
5~ When I've overdone it during the day or have trouble getting moving in the a.m., I use moist heat for 10-15 minutes. I have a large beaded microwavable wrap, it has a velcro strap so if needed I can wear it around my lumbar area while cooking, otherwise I use it upright while sitting.
6~ I bought todays version of a bean bag chair! It sounds crazy but I LOVE this chair, it takes ALL the pressure off my joints while watching t.v. Its called a CozySac, its made of small chunks of memory foam so it forms to your body. Or if you get tired of the shape its taken just puff it up and start over. It comes in 2 ft through 8 ft sizes, I got a 4 ft for chair & a 2 ft for feet. This company custom makes them in the color of your choice and it has an inner & outer cover so you can wash it without all the insides spilling out like our 70's bean bags ;-) CozySacs can be found on EBay, Amazon and they have their own website.
7~ Got one of those Shiatzu massage chair cushions that has both round and elongated massages, it really works great to unbunch back muscles.
8~ And like you, I'm taking Tramadol but not with Codeine. I recently started taking one in the evening because the cold weather here is really hurting me, but normally I only take 50 mg twice per day.

Hope something sounds of interest to you!