Is Avoiding Spinal Surgery Actually Possible?
Orthopedic specialist in Amarillo discusses it
These days we are bombarded with constant marketing messages. It’s a competition for our eyes and our ears and it’s non-stop. It’s TV, radio, internet, email, in your mailbox, and on and on and on. It is literally everywhere we look.
It is to the point now where we just don’t trust much of what we are being told anymore. If you are anything like me, then you watch a commercial if it entertains you or makes you laugh but otherwise, you're hitting fast forward on the DVR or you are tuning out until the show comes back on.
Some marketing pieces are useless. OK, A LOT of marketing is useless. Let's just be honest. But, some are amazing and provide real value. Value that might even change your life for the better.
I’ll tell you a quick story to demonstrate. I was being marketed to by a guy at a conference I was at a few years ago. When I go to a conference, honestly, I usually cruise right past vendors at these things. I don't like person-to-person marketing. It's like a forced awkward conversation and I tend to do my best to avoid those. For some reason, I gave him about 30 seconds and he changed my life. He told me about some software he had invented that fit my practice perfectly. He showed my how everything having to do with the software was backed by research papers. Well, I'm all about research papers backing my profession. I was sold fairly quickly.
Then, he told me about a course he was teaching at the conference that could be applied toward a Fellowship training certification in Orthopedics. Before I met this guy, I wasn’t planning on having any new software and I wasn’t planning on getting any Fellowship training in Orthopedics either. None of that was on my plate at all. I was, and am, a busy guy. I don't have extra time to be doing all of that learning.
Yet, here I sit three years after that encounter still very happily using his software and I am a year and a half beyond getting my Orthopedic Fellowship specialty certification. My point is, not all marketing is BAD and sometimes.....sometimes it can change your entire life if you learn to stop and listen to the stuff that resonates a little with you.
That brings me to my the topic of the article. A topic that is indeed a life-changing issue; Surgery.
Nobody ever wants to have surgery. I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone that woke up and thought to themselves one day, “You know, I’ve really been meaning to go out and get me some of that surgery business. I've heard some really good things about that surgery and it's on sale this month down at the surgery store. I believe today’s the day!”
Of course not. We all know that some surgeries are absolutely necessary while others may not be as necessary as we are commonly led to believe. Think about it a minute. What if there were surgeries out there that you THOUGHT were necessary that really aren’t? What if the surgeries you THOUGHT were absolutely necessary were not only NOT necessary but also were not backed up very well by research? And not only that, but they had never been tested against what happens when the surgery isn’t performed at all?
On top of it all, many times these surgeries are held up as being absolute and you cannot go on without them. Basically, they are a foregone conclusion. Patients are scared into them many times and few, if any, real options or alternatives are ever offered to the patients with regard to avoiding them. It’s scary and many surgeons do not go out of their way one inch to dampen the anxiety or calm fears. People make irrational decisions when they’re scared and desperate. There are some surgeons that are counting on that to be the case.
If I were a spinal surgery patient, this would all very much upset me and I would guess it would do the same to you as well. That is if you every were aware there are other options. Unfortunately most patients do not.
Let me interject for a second the fact that I am in no way against surgery when absolute necessary, when all other options have been tried and failed, and it’s the last resort. Thank God for surgery and surgeons when that is the case.
With that being said, the fact remains; there are surgeons out there ready to railroad patirnts into unnecessary spinal surgeries that do not typically have adequate research and testing to support them. Let me be fair though; I know a couple of fairly conservative surgeons as well that try to avoid surgery. This is more aimed at the ones that do not understand or aren't aware of new guidelines and research and simply go straight to the operating room with their patients.
What Do The Experts Say?
In this day and age, there is no longer any dispute. Safe and noninvasive care from alternative practitioners not only can help prevent surgeries, but it’s recommended by the medical profession’s heaviest hitters.
The American College of Physicians and American Family Physicians, two of the largest medical organizations in America, both now recommend non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical interventions as FIRST LINE THERAPIES.
Specifically, for long- and short-term back pain, recommendations to try FIRST before anything else are as follows:
It’s my observation that the largest and most influential medical entities are telling you to go to a chiropractor. Not only because research has proven these therapies to be effective, but because chiropractors are preventing unnecessary, dangerous, not sufficiently backed in the research, and potentially life-altering spinal surgeries every day.
This isn’t marketing.
It’s the simple truth.
Many disc injuries heal and chiropractors can make the healing process tolerable and can typically speed it up. It is very common to treat a disc injury that has literally incapacitated a patient, then see that very same patient return to the clinic in just two days and they are more than 50% improved.
In just one visit.
It truly hurts me somewhere down inside when I hear of a person that has spinal surgery without having ever tried any alternative treatment first. Mostly because I know they were not told there may be alternatives to surgery, that the surgery hasn’t likely been tested against not having it at all, and that they were most likely railroaded or scared into it.
We want to think and believe that our doctors, surgeons, and caregivers are the smartest of the smart, the kindest of the kind, and only have our best interest at heart. And some most certainly check all of those boxes.
However, we are not all created equally upon this Earth. Some are egomaniacs and wouldn't think twice that they need to change the way they do things or look at things. Some have a private jet to pay for. Some have a house in the Caribbean that needs fixed up. And some should have retired 10 years ago.
I have had patients tell me that their surgeons have told them things like:
"It's not a question of IF you have surgery. It's a question of WHEN."
"If you don't get surgery, you will eventually be in a wheelchair."
"If we don't get this fixed, you could wind up paralyzed."
Now, some of these surgeons just wanted compliance out of the patient and said things that would ensure that compliance, get them to sign up for that surgery, and move on. But, maybe some of these surgeons actually believed these things. If that is true, then that would make them extremely ignorant of most of the newer research and recommendations coming from their own profession. One of the most important concepts this language ignores is that Words Matter and play a big part in the biopsychosocial aspect of pain and recovery from pain.
The next thing they are ignoring by using this kind of language with their patients is that doctors cannot diagnose from an image. More and more research these days make it very clear that you cannot cut out pain. By identifying issues with the spine on an MRI and then going in to remove the issue, a doctor is treating from the image. What the newer recommendations tell us is that we must treat the patient sitting right in front of us. Mostly because we know that 60% of 40-50 year olds that HAVE ZERO PAIN at all still have herniated discs, degenerated discs, facet hypertrophy, and all kinds of really big words I won't bore you with. 60% of them. Zero Pain! The percentage only goes up the older we get. Closer to 100% of 70-80 year olds have age-related findings that cause them no pain and no issue at all because it is normal. So, if a surgeon finds something on an MRI and goes to cut it out, there is a solid chance that whatever they found may not even be the problem. It may just be normal for that patient.
Another newer concept being ignored too often is that pain is not usually a reason for surgery. Long-lasting, un-ending pain may be a reason. But, in general, pain is not a reason to have spinal surgery. Especially for those already suffering from chronic pain syndrome which is defined by the National Pain Strategy as experiencing pain at least every other day for 6 months or more. Research suggests that if a person in chronic pain syndrome has surgery on something, and the surgery goes absolutely perfectly, the patient will still have a 60% chance of developing chronic pain at the new site of injury.
So when is it OK for spinal surgery? It is typically more acceptable when a patient is having a change in bowel or bladder function, Cauda Equina Syndrome, or a neurologic deficit. A neurological deficit is a decrease in sensation, a reflex, or in motor function such as a significant muscle weakness.
Lastly, surgeons using that kind of dangerous language are ignoring the recommendations I mentioned before that were set forth by their own medical entities. Safe, non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical, non-surgical treatment FIRST. If those treatments fail, then go to medications. If those treatments fail, then go to harder medications. If those fail, then potentially steroid shots. If those fail, THEN and ONLY THEN, consider surgery.
Sometimes surgery works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. We see both sides of the coin every week. There is research showing many spinal surgeries are failures and many have to be repeated. It can be a slippery slope, it is not reversible, and that’s not a chance I’m willing to take for me, my family, or my patients.
I am telling you now, without any marketing involved.
Just me talking directly to you;
Most spinal surgeries can be avoided
And I can probably help you avoid them if you give it a chance and let us try using spinal manipulative therapy, exercise, massage, low level laser, disc decompression, acupuncture, and at-home pain management strategies.
The deal I make is three visits per week for two weeks. That’s six visits in two weeks. If you are seeing improvement at that point, stick with it and let’s have fun watching you make progress toward getting on the floor and playing with your kids or your grandkids.
If we can’t get you moving in the right direction by then, we either need to change what we are doing with you or I may not be your guy and I can help you find someone that hopefully can help. When a patient is staring straight at a recommendation for having spinal surgery, that’s about as easy as it gets and it’s as honest and responsible fo a deal as it gets.
If you’ve tried chiropractic before and it didn’t help, that doesn’t mean that chiropractic won’t help you or will not work for you.
More than likely it means that you just didn’t go to the right chiropractor. So try us out for a couple of weeks and let’s see if we can change your life for years to come.
The odds, research, and medical recommendations are all stacked in our favor. So, honestly, what do you have to lose?
Other than your pain?
Dr. Jeff Williams, DC, FIANM is a Fellowship-trained Neuromusculoskeletal specialist and chiropractor in Amarillo, TX. As an Amarillo chiropractor, Dr. Williams treats chronic pain, disc pain, low back pain, neck pain, whiplash injuries, and more. Dr. Williams is also the host of The Chiropractic Forward Podcast (https://www.chiropracticforward.com). Through the podcast, Dr. Williams teaches fellow chiropractors and advocates weekly for evidence-based, patient-centered practice through current and relevant research. If you have any questions for Dr. Williams, feel free to email at [email protected] Learn more about Dr. Williams and his practice at https://www.amarillochiropractor.com.
Dr. Williams was voted Best Chiropractor In Amarillo in the Best of Amarillo 2020. Dr. Williams's full-time Amarillo chiropractic practice is Creek Stone Integrated Care at 3501 SW 45th St., Ste. T, Amarillo, TX 79109. If you are searching for a chiropractor near me, Dr. Williams is your Amarillo Chiropractor.