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Can Physical Therapy Prevent Surgery?

Recent research is showing that surgery may not be needed as often as we might think. A large review estimates that 10% to 20% of surgeries might be unnecessary, and in some specialties such as cardiology and orthopedics, that percentage can be higher. There are a variety of decisions that lead to unneeded surgeries, but the most common is a tendency to overlook conservative treatment options. Physicians undergo long and rigorous training programs to become surgeons, but it can be challenging to keep up with developments in current practice after residency.

Additional research shows that some of the most common surgeries are not any better than placebo treatment. Two such examples are kyphoplasty, a procedure for spinal compression fractures, and partial meniscectomy, a procedure used to treat meniscus tears in the knee. Sometimes a non-surgical solution is simply the better option.

Every surgery, even “minor” ones carry risk. These include complications from anesthesia, blood clots, delayed healing, infection, and unintended nerve or organ damage. Some of these risks only cause discomfort for a short period, but others can result in permanent disability or death. For some patients and conditions, surgery is a great treatment option, but with all the associated risks, when surgery can be avoided, it should be.

For musculoskeletal issues like back pain, joint pain, sprains, and strains, seeing your physical therapist before a surgeon can help keep you out of the operating room and get you back to life without surgery. Studies have shown that physical therapy is just as good, if not better, than surgery for a multitude of conditions and carries less risk. Additional examples include rotator cuff tears, meniscal tears, spinal stenosis, lower back pain, and osteoarthritis.

That being said, physical therapy cannot fix every problem, and for some patients surgery  really is the best choice. However, research is showing that surgery is not a cure-all and is sometimes a very expensive and risky placebo. In most cases, starting with physical therapy is the right choice, and for many patients, physical therapy turns out to be the only necessary treatment.

Schedule a complimentary phone or telehealth consultation with a physical therapist here.