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J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2010 May;92(5):1293-304. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.I.01439.

Debating the value of spine surgery.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Carolinas Medical Center, Charlotte, NC 28232, USA.


Lumbar arthrodesis is a commonly performed operative procedure for the treatment of low back pain. Recently, total disc arthroplasty has gained some acceptance among surgeons and patients. However, the indications for and results of back pain surgery remain controversial and confusing. Available information suggests that meaningful functional improvement from these procedures is debatable and that the cost of such elective operations is high. Currently, lumbar disc replacement has gained minimal support from governmental and private payers. Among those attending this symposium at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the AOA, the vast majority concurred that Medicare and private insurance should not necessarily pay for disc replacement surgery. Interestingly, among this skeptical group of orthopaedic surgeons, only 23% believed that degeneration of the intervertebral disc is the major cause of low back pain. When asked the hypothetical question, "If you experienced chronic low back pain with degenerative changes at one level, what course of treatment would you opt for?" 61% responded that they would choose nonoperative treatment and 38%, that they would choose no treatment. Of more than 100 respondents, only one responded that he or she would undergo fusion and one admitted a willingness to undergo disc replacement in this hypothetical scenario.

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