Are Orthopedic Surgeons Doing Too Much Surgery?

Medical doctor pointing at radiograph x-ray image!Many patients who visit an orthopedic doctor’s office due to knee, hip or shoulder pain have been told something like, “When the pain gets bad enough, come in and we’ll do surgery,” implying that surgery is almost an automatic response to certain injuries or chronic joint problems. With surgery sometimes being scheduled before nonsurgical treatments are even considered, many are beginning to wonder if too much orthopedic surgery is being performed.

The Pressure to Operate

Orthopedic surgeons have admitted they can feel almost pressured to operate when a patient is suffering from chronic pain. If physicians simply recommend a physical therapy plan or other nonsurgical approach, they may feel they are rendering themselves useless to the patient or even the referring primary care physician. By recommending surgery, orthopedic physicians may feel they’re implementing a tangible, immediate solution that leaves the patient with the impression his or her problem will be corrected in an absolute manner.

Excess surgeries could also be explained by the fact that many joint care specialists have focused on being orthopedic surgeons rather than acting as orthopedic physicians. This phenomenon could be likened to the old saying: “A man with a hammer sees everything as a nail.” When a doctor has invested time and resources into a surgical specialization, such as knee or hip replacements, he or she may develop a tendency to see every patient through that lens. Surgical specialists may even view nonsurgical treatments as a threat to their own specialization rather than a way to offer patients a less risky alternative.

Regardless of the reasoning behind the numbers, the fact remains that the popularity of joint surgery is only predicted to increase in coming years. Are all these surgeries necessary?

Surgery Remains a Viable Option

The truth is that arthroscopic surgery helps many patients with joint problems. Through the years, the benefits of such procedures have been clearly documented when performed on the proper candidate. Many patients may see superior results from nonsurgical treatments that focus on joint preservation, but those won’t be right for everyone.