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Are Fusion Surgeries Costing Workers and Employers More Than They’re Worth?

On Behalf of | Jan 10, 2011 | Spinal Cord Injury

One of the most common injuries which form the basis for numerous workers’ compensation benefits claims is degenerative disc disease. The disease consists of a slow breakdown of the soft discs located between vertebrae that act as shock absorbers for the spine. When the structure of the discs changes, it can cause lower back pain, neck pain and other problems such as spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal canal, or herniated discs, abnormal bulges or breaks of a spinal disc.

Generally, patients are treated with physical therapy to reduce the amount of pain caused by the disease. However, several surgeons across the nation have begun recommending fusion surgery in the past few years. The fusion surgery places screws between vertebrae with the goal of limiting painful spine movements. The surgical procedure has been met with criticism and claims that it is more of a surgical money maker that is either ineffective or actually causes more severe, chronic pain.

Numerous stories of patients who have undergone fusion surgery consist of complaints that the pain exponentially increased. According to researchers, not only does the surgery lead to increased pain, but also the level of increase has caused many patients to turn to methadone to ease their suffering. Several reports of methadone addiction and even overdose deaths caused by the pain have been made.

Between the years 2002 and 2008, the number of fusions surgeries to correct lower back injury conducted in the United States doubled to 413,000, and data suggests that the number will only increase.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek “Doctors Getting Rich With Fusion Surgery Debunked by Studies” Peter Waldman and David Armstrong 1/5/11