The Lowdown on Low Back Pain
(and Other Aches)


I have read that back surgery is often done unnecessarily. Is this true?

The rate of back surgery is increasing. About 250,000 spine operations will be done this year in the United States. The cost of the care is also increasing. Over $150 billion will be spent on back pain this year. MediCare and private insurance companies are working to decrease medical payments for back pain.

There are several good reasons for recent increases in the frequency of spine surgery. As the population ages, we have more arthritis and more back pain. Older people are increasingly active and more likely to injure themselves. As technology improves, doctors are able to offer surgical fixes for more problems. Peoplesí expectations have also changed. Even twenty years ago, people did not expect much care for their back pain. People now demand the latest treatments and will not accept pain if there is an operation which might fix a problem.

Unfortunately, there are also bad reasons for recent increases in costs. The medical system can be wasteful, and some surgeries might be avoided. For example, some back pain responds poorly to surgery. Some operations may not be helpful and are more expensive than conservative care. Spinal fusion is particularly controversial. Some of the other new treatments, and many of the newer drugs, are prohibitively expensive. Some argue that society can no longer afford some of the expensive treatments.

When considering an operation for yourself, make sure that you get all the information. Consider a second opinion and remember common sense. A big operation for a small problem rarely makes sense.



The information in this site briefly describes issues related to medical treatments, and has been licensed by from Northern California Neurosurgery Medical Group, Inc., who is solely responsible for said content.  This web site is not a substitute for good medical care or for a consultation with a spine specialist. It should not be used to plan your treatment. The well considered advice of a specialist who has personally examined you is always superior to even the best internet pages.

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Last modified: 07/27/08