Planning to have surgery? Please read.

In the 2011 world of medicine we have many options open to us as patients. Sometimes, those options are limited by our insurance providers. But within that framework we can still take charge of our needs and find those physicians and ancillary medical personnel who can best help us to maintain our health.

It is of great importance to do our homework when we are trying to find the best person to care for our needs. It takes time and effort. Sometimes we listen to others’ suggestions more than we take the time to investigate for ourselves. If we are considering a surgical procedure, then it is in our best interest to seek other possibilities of solving our problem before we decide that surgery is our best option. Our bodies are fine instruments and need proper care to stay strong and vital. But there are many routes we can take, before the most serious of all: surgery. We can do the best thing for ourselves by going slowly and discovering what paths are open to us.

Considering the options

Whatever our specific condition, whether it be arthritis, a physical injury, or a chronic problem, there are no short cuts to solving the problem. The possibilities open to us are first, seeing our primary care physician, who may recommend medication. The medication may alleviate the pain while we take it but it can often have side effects and cause stomach upsets. Sometimes, just reading the information we are given by our pharmacies, makes us decide to try another way.  We may then be referred to a specialist, an orthopedist, who may say that we need surgery.

If surgery is recommended, we should consider getting another opinion, even more than one. Not from an orthopedic surgeon but from non-surgical practitioners: a physiatrist, an M.D. who can provide us with alternatives to surgery; an osteopathic physician, who uses manipulative treatments; or a physical therapist, who can identify the problem and help to create better movement and quality of life. Each person requires individual techniques and methods. And there is no one answer for any problem. But it is best to try to avoid an invasive procedure, which may or may not correct the problem and from which we will have to spend weeks and sometimes months in rehabilitation.

There are orthopedic studies on arthritis that reveal that people who had arthroscopic surgery and those who did physical therapy had the same result a year later. We know that if we take 100 people off the street who are not complaining of back problems and give them MRIs, some of the MRIs will show bulging discs. And that after back surgery many people find that they still have pain and that the problem was not disc related after all. It is a sad fact that were it not for insurance payouts, many of us would not choose to do surgery too quickly and would investigate other means. But we should do that anyway.

Preparing by asking

So, if you have decided that surgery is the best way for you to solve your physical problem, here are some things I believe would be in your best interest.

  • Talk to people who have had the kind of surgery you are contemplating and listen to their journey through it.
  • Find out how long the operative procedure will be and how long the recovery period that will return you to the ‘normal’ state you were in before you had the problem.
  • Find out what needs you will have post surgery: simple things like bathing, walking, eating can be major problems depending on the type of surgery and when you are in pain and discomfort it is hard to learn new habits.
  • Find out how much discomfort you will be in and what kind of medication you will be taking post operatively. Also how long the pain is likely to last.
  • Make certain that you will have help. Perhaps your insurance plan will provide nursing care. Perhaps you will have to hire someone yourself.
  • Find out how long it will be before you can be independent without help from outsiders and back to work or doing normal activities again.
  • Find out if the operation is likely to take care of the problem permanently or the likelihood that there will be a recurrence.
  • And consider this: Studies show that people who did physical therapy before surgery recover two to three times faster than those who did nothing.


We need to take great care of ourselves and invest our time in finding the best practitioners for what is ailing us. I am happy when my patients come and tell me, as one did only recently: “I know that I need physical therapy for 3 months and you’re third physical therapist I’ve seen. I just want to find the person who is best for me.”

It’s best to try alternative ways to heal before you decide on surgery, because there is no way back. Look for respected practitioners who will spend time, energy and use their experience to take care of you. If nothing works to your satisfaction, surgery may be your option. But it would be in your best interest to make that your last option and not your first.