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Is back surgery a placebo?

When you’re in pain, you’ll do just about anything to get relief. In today’s system, if you have back pain, you can quickly become a candidate for spinal fusion surgery. This surgeon in Australia makes a strong case that back surgeries are just a very well constructed placebo.

In this writeup on lumbar fusion for back pain, he talks about a couple studies done on back pain versus other placebos:

Two of the studies put spine fusion surgery up against structured non-operative treatment alternatives: cognitive behavioural therapy in one study, and intensive rehabilitation in another. These studies found no significant differences in the outcomes between the operative and non-operative groups (except that the complication rate in the surgical group was higher). As usual (and from my other blogs about placebo surgery, you will guess), both groups showed improvement. The point is that about the same proportion of patients in each group improved, by roughly the same amount.

If your eyes got lost in that paragraph, what he said was: you are likely to do just as well with surgery as you would with another form of treatment. However, there is a risk that you may have complications from surgery.

His whole blog is very interesting read. If you have a chance, take a look at his book reviews and other writeups on various surgeries for painful conditions.

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