2 Your Health: How to Avoid Back Surgery: See a Chiropractor First

Craig W. Brue, D.C.

A recent study from the Mayo Clinic states, “Back surgery is needed in only a small percentage of cases. Most back problems can be taken care of with nonsurgical treatments.” There is ample research evidence proving that chiropractic care should be considered before surgical intervention. These are the facts that you need to know about spinal surgery for the treatment of back and neck pain.

A recent study related to work compensation injuries in Washington concluded that the decision to have back surgery was significantly related to the patient’s initial choice of doctors; a chiropractor or a surgeon. The study found that 43% of the injured workers who first consulted a surgeon had subsequent back surgery within three years. In contrast, only 1.5% of the workers who first visited a chiropractor for back pain had back surgery. And most patients who chose chiropractic care returned to work following a short period of treatment.

A 2006 Dartmouth Medical School study found that patients who had nonsurgical treatment for disc problems improved as much as those who underwent surgery. In another study, researchers with the Oregon Health and Science University found that a majority of patients with general low back pain caused by conditions like osteoarthritis did not get good results from surgery.

The Spine Journal reports that only 26% of the patients who had surgery returned to work in two years, compared with the return of 67% of patients who didn’t have surgery. The study also confirmed that there is a significant increase in the use of addicting narcotic drugs with those patients following surgery. Another Spine Journal article followed 400 patients with sciatica (back and leg pain) due to disc herniation. This study found that patients treated with surgery for leg pain had worse symptoms and less ability to function than the nonsurgical group.

Because no one will die from back pain, a forward-thinking health maintenance organization with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has adopted a landmark guideline for the conservative management of spine pain. Their new treatment protocol states that candidates for spinal surgery are required to undergo a three-month period of conservative treatment, including chiropractic care, before surgery is to be considered.

In certain cases, spinal surgery for your back or neck condition may be the only way to resolve the pain. However, the conservative approach to the treatment of back and neck pain should be implemented first. Conservative management includes specific spinal adjustments, strengthening and stretching exercises, and general lifestyle improvements for the prevention and management of recurring back pain.

My advice: Always do the most conservative treatment first. Put a great chiropractor on your health team. If chiropractic management is not successful, you can always try the more aggressive and dangerous treatments for back pain.

Dr. Craig W. Brue is an author, lecturer, and chiropractic provider in SaddleBrooke, Ariz. For more information on chiropractic care, go to bruechiropractic.com.