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Why Back Surgery Usually Fails

By Steven Hefferon, CMT, PTA, CPRS
From lose the back pain

In traditional medicine, back pain is often treated by surgery. And it often doesn't work. So often, in fact, that back pain surgery is the only category of surgery that actually has a clinical term for failure: Failed Back Surgery Syndrome.

If you ask me, any treatment that actually expects failure is not a treatment at all.

I don't care what type of surgery you're considering. With any treatment that only addresses the symptoms - in this case, pain - the question is not what symptoms you have but what caused them.

3 Reasons Surgery Doesn't Work

I'm not going to tell you that you should not have surgery. I can assure you, however, that once you have surgery, everything changes. You will never be the same, even if the surgery is a success.

There are maybe a dozen or so types of surgical procedures for back pain, and all of them attempt to do one of two things: remove the pressure on the nerve or stabilize the spine. Let's take a herniated disc, for example. You have pain because the disc is pressing on the nerve. Your doctor says that the only thing he can do is remove the part of the disc that's touching the nerve.

Your first thought probably is: Good-bye pain!

Not so fast.


1. Once the operation is completed, your body will go through a recovery process that includes a lot of pain and awkward movement just to get you through each day. This is going to be your first potential source of trouble. Because your body now has to contort itself, you'll be putting unnatural wear and tear on other areas of your body. As a result, you may begin to have problems above or below the surgery site or in other joints such as the hips or sacroiliac.

2. All surgeries produce scar tissue. But because back pain surgery occurs so close to nerves, the scar tissue often builds up and makes contact with a nerve. This can cause as much pain as if the disc itself were still putting pressure on the nerve.

3. The rehab you're likely to get soon after the operation is only going to address your postoperative pain. It will help you improve your functional skills to perform what are called "activities of daily living," which include bathing, dressing, going to the bathroom, and the like. This is fine and necessary so you can go home and be safe. But it doesn't address the long-term cause of the pain.

The Causes of Back Pain

Most back pain conditions have to do with something called "postural dysfunctions." Postural dysfunctions are similar to a car's tire being out of proper alignment. In the body, improper alignment is seen as abnormal curvature of the spine and abnormal positioning of the pelvis.

The great news is that we know what cause these postural dysfunctions and how to correct them.

To get our bodies back into balance so they can function normally again, we need to get our muscles back into alignment.

More, below....

5 Important Questions to Ask

If you are considering surgery, I'd recommend finding a qualified therapist first. Give yourself 60 days to work on stretching and strengthening before you decide whether or not to go under the knife.

If you still opt for surgery, tell both your therapist and your surgeon that you want your postoperative rehab to address both short-term and long-term goals. It must not only work on decreasing your pain so you can safely go home. It also must answer the following five questions related to the root cause or causes of your pain.

  1. 1. Which postural dysfunction did you identify? Ask the surgeon and therapist to examine you for dysfunction, including the following two potential abnormalities.
  2.  How would you describe the curvature of my spine from top to bottom?
  3. How would you describe the position of my pelvis (level or tipping)?
  4.  What are mymuscle imbalances? The therapist must explain how your muscles are out of balance - which muscles are strong, weak, flexible or tight in relation to one another.
  5. Which muscles do I need to stretch and which ones do I need to strengthen? (Be sure the therapist explains what each muscle group does so you know how to do the exercises correctly.)

Have both your surgeon and your therapist write everything down as part of your long-term goal and ask for a copy.

The Path to Success

If you eventually do decide to have surgery, understand that the number one reason why back pain sufferers fail to get long-term relief -- and by that I mean more than five years -- is that this very simple principle of muscle imbalance was not addressed seriously.

Once you do address it, though, then you really are on the path to a pain-free life.


You can get lasting pain relief once you learn how to self treat trigger points. For more FREE articles and videos be sure to visit


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