Why ‘Useless’ Surgery Is Still Popular


Published:

Doctors have been using your mind for decades to help you feel better. Also known as the placebo effect, using pills and therapies known to have no effect on the body can sometimes have a significant effect on your health and wellness.

In medical practice, a placebo is a treatment that appears real, but isn’t. Oftentimes researchers use placebos in medical studies to determine if there is a measurable difference between the treatment being tested and the effect your mind has over your body.

Doctors have used pills, therapies and shots in order to effect a change in your health without increasing your risk to potential side effects from other treatments. Research into this effect has found a relationship between what you could reasonably expect from your treatment and your body’s response.

In other words, if you expect a pill or shot to lessen your pain, you may experience less pain. However, researchers have also found that placebos have an effect on healing and body chemistry as well, demonstrating the power of your mind on self-healing.

Placebos Harness The Power Of Your Mind

While scientists can’t determine how they work, they have found there is a hierarchy of effectiveness to placebos. Some placebo treatments just work better than others. For instance:1

  • Placebo surgery works better than placebo injections
  • Placebo injections work better than placebo pills; color and size of the pill makes a difference
  • Sham acupuncture treatment works better than a placebo pill
  • The more expensive, the better and the more doses per day, the better the effect
  • Telling the patient, “This will relieve your pain” works better than saying “This might help”

Belief has a powerful effect on your mind and healing your body. Interestingly, recent investigations point to a growing effectiveness of placebos among Americans.2 This is having a powerful influence on the development of new painkillers.

The response of clinical trial participants to placebo medications to treat neuropathic pain has increased steadily over a 23-year period between 1990 and 2013.

This change has effectively reduced the margin of benefit between placebos and active drugs. This change makes it much more difficult to establish a statistical difference between placebos and the active medication.

As the response to placebos is getting more powerful, it is more challenging to prove a drug actually does what is intended.3,4

Placebos Work In More Than Medical Treatments

Although the placebo effect appears more frequently in medical treatments, other areas experience similar benefits.

  • Research published in The Sport Psychologist found that athletes given an energy drink and told they could lift more weight than normal were able to increase the amount lifted by 4 percent.
  • Even when athletes knew they were drinking a placebo, they were still lifting heavier weights than without the supplement.5
  • A study published in The Gundersen Medical Journal in 2000 found runners given “super oxygenated water” ran 8 percent faster. The results were consistent across 84 percent of the runners. The drink was just plain water.6
  • In 2007, researchers found a 20 percent increased strength in untrained athletes who thought they received amino acids to increase strength but were receiving a placebo.7
  • A study in 2008 demonstrated a 22 percent increase in strength in trained athletes who thought they were taking caffeine. The researchers in this study conditioned the participating athletes to believe they were lifting more weights than they actually were, which made them believe the “drug” was even more powerful.8

Although these percentages may seem small, they can mean the difference between placing in the top three in a professional competition and not placing at all.

Useless Surgery Is More Than Just A Placebo

Before a drug is allowed to be sold on the open market it goes through testing to ensure both safety of the product in human trials and that the benefit to the drug is greater than the benefit of using a placebo.

When the process is not successful, medications can slip through causing significant health problems, as did Duract, Zelnorm, Vioxx, Seldane and many others.

However flawed the system for medication approval may be, there is no similar process for surgical procedures. The expected outcome from rigorous clinical trials that demonstrate a surgical procedure is not beneficial would be that surgeons no longer perform the operation. But that doesn’t happen.

For instance, lumbar fusion surgery is used to relieve back pain if your discs are worn. Surgeons use a graft to fuse the bones together, which reduces the flexibility of your spine.

The surgery can last up to four hours, requires physical therapy to return to your normal activities and carries with it a number of significant health risks including:9

  • Blood clots in the legs that may travel to the lungs
  • Infection developing in the lungs, bladder or kidney, wound or spine
  • Heart attack or stroke during surgery
  • Blood loss
  • Breathing problems
  • Reaction to medications used during surgery
  • Damage to your spinal nerves causing pain, loss of sensation or weakness
  • Spine is more likely to wear away, both above and below the graft, triggering more problems later
  • Risks from anesthesia include damaged teeth, nausea and vomiting, respiratory depression or anaphylaxis

Several clinical trials and analysis of surgical procedures published from 2005 through 2014 have demonstrated conservative rehabilitation treatments are as effective as lumbar fusion, or more so, without the associated risk.10,11,12,13

Lumbar fusion is only one of several reimbursed surgical procedures despite research casting doubt on their effectiveness.

What may cause surgeons to recommend surgeries that don’t have a demonstrable benefit margin above other less invasive treatment options, such as a structured rehabilitation program?

Physician Perspective On Outcomes

In 2009, research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, studying the long term effect of vertebroplasty to treat vertebral compression fractures compared to a placebo procedure.14 The results between the two procedures had no statistical differences; both groups experienced the same pain relief.

Dr. David Kallmes of Mayo Clinic and lead author of the research, theorized physicians perform surgical procedures that have not demonstrated greater benefit than a non-invasive treatment since insurance companies continue to reimburse for the surgery, and surgeons may have a greater tendency to remember their patients who seemed better after the procedure. Quoted in The New York Times, Kallmes said:15

“When you read a study, you reflect on whether it is representative of your patient population. It is easy to conclude that the answer is ‘no.’ The mean age in the study is different or ‘I do it differently.’

I think there is a placebo effect not only on patients but on doctors. The successful patient is burned into their memories and the not-so-successful patient is not. Doctors can have selective memory that leads them to conclude that, ‘Darn it, it works pretty well.’”

Other surgical procedures physicians continue to perform, although research demonstrates the invasive procedure is as effective, or less effective than non-invasive rehabilitation, include meniscus repair (knee) with osteoarthritis16 and meniscus repair without osteoarthritis.17

Insurance Companies May Hold The Key

The research evaluating the benefits of spinal fusion should have been enough to curtail the number of fusion surgeries performed throughout the U.S. Unfortunately, the number only continued to climb. Between 2000 and 2009, following the publication of several research trials negating the benefit of fusion surgery, the number of procedures increased 2.4-fold, and six-fold over the past 20 years.18,19

The rates did not begin to drop until 2012 when Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina declined to pay for spinal fusion surgery any further, and several other insurers followed suit.

However, although insurance companies appear to be reading the research, others want to continue to perform surgical procedures from which you won’t benefit more than a rigorous rehabilitation program.20 Law firms are advising you to fight the insurance company to pay for a procedure with higher risk than rehabilitation, but no larger benefit margin.

Ultimately It Is Your Choice

While it may seem as if you don’t have a choice in your treatment plan, ultimately it is your body and you who will experience any side effects or problems from a procedure. However, the choice you make may depend upon how the options are presented to you.

In response to an article about clinical trial data, Dr. Gordon H. Guyatt, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at McMaster University, wrote an editorial in The British Medical Journal, quoted in Clinicient and The New York Times, in which he said:21,22

“I personally think the operation should not be mentioned. But if a doctor says anything, say this: ‘[W]e have randomized clinical trials that produce the highest quality of evidence. They strongly suggest that the procedure is next to useless. If there is any benefit, it is very small and there are downsides, expense, and potential complications.’ I cannot imagine that anyone would say, ‘Go ahead. I will go for it.’”

What Can You Do Reduce Your Risk Of Useless Surgery?

You are responsible for your health, for what you eat, for the procedures you agree to undergo and for the medication you take. In a fast-paced, one-pill-does-it-all society it can be tempting to take the advice of the first physician you work with, especially if they promise you exactly what you want to hear.

But, like everything else in life, there are two sides to each coin. Even after a surgical procedure, you will need rehabilitation to prevent the damage from occurring again and to regain strength and endurance to enjoy your life. Whether you do the work of rehabilitation after surgery or instead of surgery, you will likely need it to regain your health.

Unfortunately, there are no quick and easy answers to repairing and strengthening the complex human body. However, you may reduce your risk potential and possible long-term side effects by researching the recommended surgical procedure, getting a second opinion and considering a rigorous rehabilitation program.

Staying and remaining healthy requires you eat a science-based nutritional diet, move throughout the day, get eight hours of sleep each night and engage in stress reduction practices that work for you. Although you may find surgery to be necessary, you will improve your recovery time by incorporating each of these health practices on a daily basis.

This article was brought to you by Dr. Mercola, a New York Times bestselling author. For more helpful articles, please visit Mercola.com today and receive your free Take Control of Your Health E-book!

See also:
Power Up: Be In Charge Of Your Life And Health
Restricting Opiate Use: But What About The Pain?

Sources and References
1 Placebos Do Work: Let’s Consider Why. (2016). Psychology Today. Retrieved 17 August 2016
2 Are Placebos Getting Stronger? « Science-Based Medicine. (2016). Sciencebasedmedicine.org.
3 Jo Marchant, N. (2016). Placebo Effect Grows in U.S., Thwarting Development of Painkillers. Scientific American. Retrieved 17 August 2016
4 Forbes Welcome. (2016). Forbes.com. Retrieved 17 August 2016
5 Expectancy Effects and Strength Training: Do Steroids Make a Difference?. (2000). The Sports Psychologist. Retrieved 17 August 2016
6 Placebo Effects on Exercise Performance. (2009). Gundluth.org. Retrieved 17 August 2016
7 JOURNAL OF APPLIED SPORT PSYCHOLOGY
8 The top‐down influence of ergogenic placebos on muscle work and fatigue. European Journal Of Neuroscience, 28(2), 379-388.
9 Spinal Fusion - Surgery Procedures & Risks - NY Times Health Information. (2016). Nytimes.com. Retrieved 17 August 2016
10 Systematic Review of Randomized Trials Comparing Lumbar Fusi... : Spine. (2016). LWW. Retrieved 17 August 2016
11 Mannion AF, e. (2016). Comparison of spinal fusion and nonoperative treatment in patients with chronic low back pain
12 Spinal fusion surgery has only modest, if any, effects. BMJ : British Medical Journal, 330(7502), 1220.
13 Saltychev M, e. (2014). Lumbar fusion compared with conservative treatment in patients with chronic low back pain: a meta-analysis
14 A Randomized Trial of Vertebroplasty for Osteoporotic Spinal Fractures — NEJM. (2016). Nejm.org. Retrieved 17 August 2016
15, 22 Kolata, G. (2016). Why ‘Useless’ Surgery Is Still Popular. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 17 August 2016
16 Surgery versus Physical Therapy for a Meniscal Tear and Osteoarthritis — NEJM. (2016). Nejm.org.
17 Exercise therapy versus arthroscopic partial meniscectomy for degenerative meniscal tear in middle aged patients
18 (2015). Thespinejournalonline.com. Retrieved 17 August 2016
19 Spinal fusions serve as case study for debate over when certain surgeries are necessary. (2016). Washington Post.
20 Patients Can Force Insurance Companies To Pay For Spinal Fusion Surgery. (2016). Brent Adams & Associates. Retrieved 17 August 2016
21 Insights News Pulse - August 5, 2016 - Clinicient. (2016). Clinicient. Retrieved 17 August 2016

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

November 12, 2019

The excitement of the Full “Beaver” Moon in Taurus dominates the busy morning. These early hours are highly energized and with multiple planets in supportive roles, chock full with important happenings. There are opportunities to renegotiate and renew…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

November 2019

No matter how broken or damaged you may feel, there is a deep well of stillness inside of you that is always there! Connected. Whole. Unchanging and Ever present. Yoga Nidra or Conscious Sleep...

Cost: $20 each session

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Lower Level
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Contact Name: Alice Bentley
Website »

More information

Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

Where:
VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiritualist Fellowship Church Of New England
Website »

More information

A beautiful collection of messages from Jeshua Ben Joseph (Jesus) that will transform your life, as it did his. Coming together to study these teachings, to ponder, to savor, to deepen our...

Cost: $25 per class

Where:
Heart and Soul Holistic Healing Center
130 Massapoag Avenue
Sharon, MA  02067
View map »


Sponsor: Heart and Soul Holistic
Telephone: 781-258-9942
Contact Name: Barbara Ann Strassman
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

In gratitude for your service, please join us at Dragonfly Wellness Center at 176 Jackson Road, Devens for refreshments and complimentary 15 minute sessions of: Chair massage Shamanic...

Cost: Free

Where:
Dragonfly Wellness Center
Dragonfly Wellness Center
176 Jackson Rd
Devens, MA  01432
View map »


Sponsor: Yoga Anita
Telephone: 978-227-8297
Contact Name: Anita Perry
Website »

More information

2nd and 4th Monday of every month This psychic message circle is for anyone wishing to raise their connection using their psychic centers known as the “clairs.” Learn how to use...

Cost: $20

Where:
Messages From Heaven Healing and Learning Center
646 Central Street
Suite 3
Leominster, MA
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Come join us for a guided drumming circle to celebrate the November “Beaver” Moon. Arlene Dorischild will lead fellow drummers in a celebration to honor this special lunar event....

Cost: Donation

Where:
Peaceful Creations LLC
382 Boston Turnpike
Suite 102
Shrewsbury, MA  01545
View map »


Sponsor: Peaceful Creations LLC
Telephone: 617-208-3333
Contact Name: Rebecca Resnik
Website »

More information

Free Evidence-Based Holistic Health Education Program at Wilbraham Senior Center The H.E.A.R.T. Program® (Health Empowerment and Real Transformation), created and instructed by Michelle...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilbraham Senior Center
45 Post Office Park, #4502
Wilbraham, MA  01095
View map »


Sponsor: Harmony Way
Telephone: 413-636-2475
Contact Name: Michelle Caron
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Wellness Roundtable Holistic Practitioners Network creates an environment for wellness practitioners to inspire, educate and support one another, while building community and encouraging...

Cost: $20 (Drop-ins are welcome)

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman St
#108B
Westborough, MA
View map »


Sponsor: 01581
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

How would it feel to have direct education on changing your feelings so you do start to ask for what you truly want? Each month, come and practice hands-on skills to get into the habit of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Awaken Holistic Counseling Services
2 Liberty St., Unit 2L
Newburyport, MA  01950
View map »


Sponsor: Awaken Holistic Counseling Services, LLC
Telephone: 978-255-7893
Contact Name: Kerri Morrison
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This is a class that will teach you how to make your own wire-wrapped gemstone pendant! Don’t be discouraged—it is simpler than you think, and you’ll have great fun in...

Cost: Reg includes supplies $40 per person or $35 more than one

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd
Unit A
Salem , NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Retire the Curse, Enhance the Blessing with Sally Sugatt, LICSW, C-IAYT Do you feel locked into your family’s karma (reactions, cycles or patterns)? Come explore how you have been...

Cost: $45

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Lower Level
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Contact Name: Alice Bentley
Website »

More information

Award winning artist, musician and channeler, David Young shares his amazing revelations. Orchestrated synchronicities over the course of four years uncover the truth of what happened 2,000...

Cost: $35

Where:
Peaceful Creations LLC
382 Boston Turnpike
Suite 102
Shrewsbury, MA  01545
View map »


Sponsor: Peaceful Creations
Telephone: 617-208-3333
Contact Name: Rebecca Resnik
Website »

More information

Facilitator: Peyton Pugmire Fridays, 9/20, 10/18, 11/15, 12/20, 9:30am–10:30am Everyone leaves with a powerful message to inspire their weekend!  Join Peyton Pugmire,...

Cost: Pay What You Wish

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Telephone: 781-797-0389
Contact Name: Creative Spirit
Website »

More information

Four week series for girls ages 11 and up with Leigh Sloss This series of classes will focus on some of the most effective yoga and mindfulness skills for reducing stress and anxiety.  In a...

Cost: Series: $75; Drop in rate $20

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Lower Level
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Contact Name: Alice Bentley
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Learn the facts about Lyme Disease and how to protect yourself and your family! The Central Mass Lyme Foundation will host its 4th Lyme Disease Conference....

Cost: In advance: $30, at the door: $40

Where:
Sturbridge Host Hotel & Conference Center
366 Main St.
Exit 9 off Mass Pike
Sturbridge, MA
View map »


Sponsor: The Central Mass Lyme Foundation
Contact Name: Michele Miller
Website »

More information

With Ross J. Miller, psychic healer, medium, regression therapist. In this unique, experiential workshop you’ll learn how to identify your guardian angels and spirit guides by name and...

Where:
Newton, MA


Telephone: (617) 527-3583
Contact Name: Ross J. Miller
Website »

More information

Instructor: Peyton Pugmire Ages 16+/Adult Like meditating with a paintbrush!  Come re-connect with yourself, your heart and soul, and your divine intuition—one brushstroke...

Cost: $120 (includes all supplies)

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Telephone: 781-797-0389
Contact Name: Creative Spirit
Website »

More information

Practice what you have learned in Yoga for Plantar Fasciitis Part 1 (Nov. 2). Relieve pain on the bottom of the foot. It's not the usual stretching. It's a gentle way to...

Cost: $35 preregister; $40 at the door

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Medittaion Studio
30 Lyman Street
Suite 108b (next to hair salon)
Westborough, MA, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: Pat Lebau Yoga
Telephone: 508-393-5581
Contact Name: Pat Lebau
Website »

More information

Journey back into the experience of peace, harmony and inner power through this unique meditation practice. Explore the power of your thoughts and how they can bring you inner harmony and help you...

Cost: Free of charge as a community service, contributions welcome.

Where:
Inner Space Meditation Center and Gallery
1110 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA
View map »


Sponsor: Brahma Kumaris
Telephone: 617–547–1110
Website »

More information

Reiki Master Teacher Libby Barnett, M.S.W., integrates her healing skills with past experience as a medical social worker at Massachusetts General Hospital. 38 years experience. Reiki...

Where:
Weston, MA


Telephone: 603-654-2787
Website »

More information

Psychics, mediums, angel readers, spirit art. Reiki, chair massage, IET, Gaiadon Heart, crystal healings, etc. Sign yourself up for a few appointments and bring your friends! Appointments...

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA
View map »


Telephone: 508-230-3680
Website »

More information

Learn to overcome spinal tensions through therapeutic postures, designed to decompress your spine and relieve pain. Taught by a certified yoga therapist, classes bring you through poses...

Cost: 5/$50

Where:
Bliss Through Yoga
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice O'Brien
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags