This is a very common question in physical therapy and injury rehabilitation settings .
As humans we think of ourselves as machines. Something is broken and needs to be fixed.
However, we are not machines, and surgeons are not mechanics that fix something broken. In fact, they are closer to janitors “cleaning up” accumulated damage that was created by something else.
A recent literature review published in the prestigious journal, JOSPT, found no evidence to support having surgery versus non-surgical interventions and 9 different areas of the body were researched! The study can be found here.
Now before we jump to conclusions, surgery is an essential part of healthcare.
It is the best option after trauma occurs that causes structural damage which will prevent the body from functioning as required for sport or daily life. Examples include broken bones that are displaced, as well as tendon or ligament ruptures like ACL or Achilles tears.
Surgery may also be a solution to chronic pain or injury that has not improved with non-surgical interventions such as physical therapy.
In the instances described above surgery is utilized as a last resort or because of significant, clear structural damage which can be reliably repaired.
Research, such as the article referenced previously, commonly shows poor long-term outcomes for surgery because we are commonly led to believe that surgery “fixes” the issue.
Surgery does not address the root causes of an injury and it is essential to learn is what caused the damage requiring surgery in the first place. As a result, we can address the root causes of pain, injury, or tissue damage before surgery, hopefully avoiding it altogether. If surgery is still warranted, then the factors that lead to it must be addressed in the post-operative process. If not, we will continue to see more studies like the one referenced in this article showing poor outcomes from surgery.
As the saying goes, if we don’t learn from history, we are bound to repeat it!