WHAT DO JOHN F. KENNEDY, TIGER WOODS AND HULK HOGAN HAVE IN COMMON?
This may sound like a joke, but the punch line is anything but funny: all three were/are formerly
vigorous people who suffered chronic back pain that multiple back surgeries failed to ease. That
also gives them something in common with millions of Americans, since low-back pain is one of
the top complaints that brings patients to doctors’ offices, and surgery is rarely the answer.
According to Dr. Brian Su, a surgeon in chief with Mt. Tam Orthopedics and Marin General
Hospital’s Medical Director of Spine Surgery, a common misconception among patients is that
surgery will cure the chronic back pain that plagues so many of us.
“It typically cannot,” Su says. “I do surgery for back pain, but they are very select patients. The
Perhaps surprisingly, an MRI doesn’t always help doctors find the cause of the pain. Research
vast majority I turn away.”
Surgery is probably not necessary even if a scan shows scary-sounding things like a herniated
disk, multilevel compression, pinched nerves or degenerative disk disease, he says. In fact, a 2016
review of the literature confirmed what was already common knowledge among spine surgeons:
for 95 percent of chronic lower-back-pain patients, a cause can’t be pinpointed, meaning that
surgery is not a good idea.
has shown no nonspecific correlation bet ween abnormal MRI scans and lower back pain.
Aching back? You probably don’t need surgery.
BY CARRIE KIRBY