Surgery vs. Physical Therapy

Before You Have a Surgery You Don’t Need, Give Physical Therapy a Try.

Recent research is showing that 10% to 20% of surgeries might be unnecessary and that in some specialties, that number might be higher. The reasons for so many unneeded surgeries being performed are varied, but one of the most common is that more conservative options like physical therapy aren’t tried first.

Every surgery carries risks. These include complications from anesthesia, blood clots after surgery, delayed healing of the incision, infection, and unintended damage to nerves or other organs near the surgical site. Some of these risks cause discomfort for a period after surgery and go away, but others can result in permanent disability or even death. For some patients and conditions surgery is a great treatment option, but with all the risks associated with surgery, when it can be avoided it should be.

Studies have shown physical therapy to be just as good if not better than surgery for a multitude of conditions while exposing patients to much less risk. Some examples would include rotator cuff tears, spinal stenosis, meniscal tears, low back pain, and osteoarthritis. Recent research is also showing that some common surgeries aren’t any better than a placebo. Two such examples are kyphoplasty – a procedure for spinal compression fractures, and partial meniscectomy – a common procedure used to treat tears of the meniscus in the knee.

Physical therapy can’t fix every problem, and for some patients surgery is the best choice. However, research is showing that surgery isn’t a cure-all, and is sometimes just a very expensive and risky placebo. In most cases, starting with physical therapy is the right choice, and for many patients, PT is the only treatment necessary.