One of the types of spine surgeries that many of my clients have undergone is spinal fusion surgery. This surgery entails screwing together, with a metal cage, several vertebrae in the spine in order to limit painful movement in the vertebrae. Here is a picture of what a typical fusion surgery looks like:
I recently came across a Bloomburg article about fusion surgeries that was very disturbing. From the article, I learned that the number of fusions at U.S. hospitals doubled to 413,000 between 2002 and 2008, generating $34 billion in bills, data from the federal Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project show. The number of the surgeries will rise to 453,300 this year, according to Millennium Research Group of Toronto.
In and of itself, the rise in the number of fusion surgeries should not be a concern, assuming the procedure helps patients live productive, relatively pain free lives. But the studies say different.
It’s amazing how much evidence there is that fusions don’t work, yet surgeons do them anyway,” said Sohail Mirza, a spine surgeon who chairs the Department of Orthopaedics at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire. “The only one who isn’t benefitting from the equation is the patient.
British and Norwegian researchers found fusion no better than physical therapy for disc-related pain in three studies, totaling 473 patients, published in the journals Spine, Pain and the British Medical Journal between 2003 and 2006. A 2001 Swedish study of 294 patients in Spine found fusion better than physical therapy that was less structured than the kinds used in the other studies.