Physical Therapy Can Prevent Unnecessary Surgery

By MarieNelson on March 1st, 2020

Recent research is showing that surgery might not be needed as often as we think. A large review estimates that 10% to 20% of surgeries might be unnecessary and that in some specialties such as cardiology and orthopedics, that number might be higher.

From rotator cuff tears, degenerative disc disease and low back pain, to meniscal tears, knee pain and osteoarthritis studies have shown that physical therapy is as effective as surgery in treating a wide range of conditions. Don’t take our word for it though. These universities and doctors already did the homework for us.
  • The New England Journal of Medicine found physical therapy to be as effective as surgery for treating meniscal tears and knee osteoarthritis.
  • Thomas Jefferson University Hospital found that patients with degenerative disk disease responded as well to physical therapy as to surgery.
  • The Bone and Joint Journal found that physical therapy for rotator cuff tears produces results equal to those produced by arthroscopic surgery and open surgical repair.

So if physical therapy is as effective as surgery, why are so many surgeries still occurring? The most common reason for so many unneeded surgeries is that more conservative options aren’t tried first and perhaps, a lack of knowledge by the operating physician.

Physicians undergo long and rigorous training programs to become surgeons, but if they don’t work hard to keep learning, their knowledge often stops growing when they leave residency. Recent research is showing that certain common surgeries aren’t any better than a placebo. Two such examples are kyphoplasty (a procedure for spinal compression fractures), and partial meniscectomy (a procedure used to treat tears of the meniscus in the knee). If a surgeon hasn’t continued to learn, they won’t know that these surgeries often don’t offer any more benefit than a non-surgical treatment and will continue to perform them.

Every surgery, even “minor” ones, carry risks. These include complications from anesthesia, blood clots after surgery, delayed healing of the incision, infection, and unintended damage to nerves or other organs near the surgical site. Some of these risks cause discomfort for a period after surgery and go away, but others can result in permanent disability or even death. For some patients and conditions, surgery is a great treatment option, but with all the associated risks, when surgery can be avoided, it should be.

For musculoskeletal problems like back and joint pain, sprains, and strains, seeing your physical therapist before a surgeon can help keep you out of the operating room and get you back to life without surgery. Studies have shown that physical therapy is just as good if not better than surgery for a multitude of conditions and carries less risk. Some examples would include rotator cuff tears, meniscal tears, spinal stenosis, low back pain, and osteoarthritis.

Physical therapy can’t fix every problem, and for some patients surgery is the best choice. However, research is showing that surgery isn’t a cure-all, and is sometimes just a very expensive and risky placebo. In most cases, starting with physical therapy is the right choice, and for many patients, physical therapy is the only treatment necessary.

If you have neck and back pain, joint pain, sprains, and strains or an injury that results in pain, swelling or loss of motion, contact us to schedule an evaluation today.

 

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