Don't rush to surgery for herniated disk

The same level of improvement occurred in two years between those who had disk surgery and those who had other treatments, according to the results of a randomized study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

It seems a third of the people who were assigned to have other treatments went ahead and had surgery anyway–which just shows how hopeful we all are that there’s a quick fix for our pain or other issues. Any differences in favor of surgery were small and not statistically significant.

Because I know some folks with back problems, I know that the non-surgical stuff is a lot of work–exercise, stretching, massage and so on. And it can be hard to talk insurance companies into paying for that kind of stuff–another reason people rush to surgery. Thanks to the Internet, anyone trying to make this type of decision has a treasure trove of information about non-surgical options.

This is another area where medical ethics can be troubling. Because surgery is profitable and insurance companies pay readily for it, it can be hard for an honest practitioner to suggest alternatives that don’t involve personal revenue streams. Focusing on the greater good always shades our choices in life.