Until now, there has not been any scientific evidence supporting or denying the effectiveness of spinal fusion surgery. However, its popularity among doctors and patients has increased drastically the past few years. In a recent post, we discussed a study in Medical News Today which showed that spinal fusion surgery is worse for workers' compensation patients than nonsurgical options such as physical therapy or exercise.
The researchers compared several outcomes for more than 1,400 patients at their two-year follow-up appointment. Their evidence clearly shows that the surgery is not an effective operation.
- Return to work: Of the patients who had surgery, slightly more than 25 percent returned to work. Of the patients who did not have surgery, 66 percent returned to work.
- Permanent disability: Of the patients who had surgery, 11 percent had permanent disability. Of those who did not have surgery, just 2 percent had permanent disability.
- Complications: Of the patients who had surgery, 27 percent had repeat surgery. In addition, 36 percent had complications with the operation.
- Pain medication: Of the patients who had surgery, most continued using opioid drugs or other pain medication after the surgery, and many took it at a higher dose.
- Death: The article did not provide specific numbers regarding the percentage of deaths in either group, but it did state that there were significantly more deaths among those who had surgery.
Medical News Today states that the study they referenced is not a controlled scientific analysis, but it does raise important questions for individuals and employers with workers' compensation. Dr. Nguyen, the doctor who co-authored the study, wrote, "The procedure is offered to improve pain and function, yet objective outcomes showed increased permanent disability, poor return to work status, and higher doses of opioids."
Source: Medical News Today, "Spinal Fusion Surgery Provides Worse Outcomes in Workers' Compensation Patients," 16 February 2011