Why does surgery worsen back pain?

Posted June, 2008

Many factors can cause a surgical "intervention" to fail to help or even worsen back pain. These factors are too numerous and complex to go into in detail about them here, but a few include: injuries to surrounding tissues, a “wrong” initial diagnosis of the problem, and difficulties caused by tissue changes when you heal (sometimes called scar tissue).

Being a structure with many parts or "systems" all of which must work in smooth unison, and often under heavy loads while twisting and turning, the human spine is very sensitive to the gross physical intrusion that is a part of any "open" surgical procedure or manipulation.

Some sources have indicated that perhaps as many as 85% of back pain patients are not properly diagnosed during their initial "back doctor" visit. Even if we assume a much lower figure, say 50%, this means that you could have a 50-50 chance of pain relief. And a 50-50 chance of coming out the "other end" with more pain.

If your pain is caused by a soft tissue injury it's often even harder to properly diagnose and fix. Because of this, the patient may not have an ailment that's responsive to surgical procedures—but the pain may mimic conditions that could be so helped. However in the end, surgery wouldn't be advisable and could even make things much worse.

Standard "back surgeries" have risks of their own that may, through the intrusion or healing process, unintentionally add to your pain load. We generally prefer less-invasive procedures that remove pain and restore functionality—and that do so with reduced risks of subsequent complications. By minimizing physical trauma and possible injury during the procedure, in the process reducing postoperative complications, we tend to speed healing and maximize pain relief.

There's an old saying, "Less is more." In many instances a patient's back will function better if we do less to it. We frequently accomplish this by removing or reducing the patient's pain "baggage" and then by helping the patient restore flexibility and muscle strength that lost from long convalescent periods. In the end, this can provide a better result than the patient might get from aggressive orthopedic surgery.

Click here to read about the steps you can take to finally relieve your back pain.