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When you have Google ads on a page you’re not supposed to comment on them, but fuck it: since my last back-related post the ads have highlighted a few alternative therapy sites. Because I’m interested in this stuff, I followed the links and – in my humble opinion – some of the ads take you to sites that are talking bollocks.

One of the ads – it seems to have disappeared for now, but I’m sure it’ll return – takes you to a site offering alternatives to surgery. I’m the first to admit that surgery is a last resort; however, some of the supposedly scientific claims made by the site are bullshit. In particular it – correctly – notes that surgery for back problems is a last resort, but it goes on to say that surgical intervention has a “very high failure rate”. As Penn & Teller might put it: bullshit!

If your pathology is appropriate for back surgery, the success rate is between 80% and 90%. That’s not a survival rate; it’s a success rate: of every 10 people who have the surgery, 8 or 9 people find that it solves their pain. The remaining one person may well find that surgery makes no difference, but when it comes to complications – a worsening of the problem, death on the operating table, alien abduction – the rate is between one-quarter and one-half of one per cent. You face similar risks crossing the road, or performing karaoke when I”m in a bad mood.

One-half to one-quarter of a per cent is not a “very high failure rate”; it’s almost insignificant. That doesn’t mean non-surgical techniques don’t work; it means that if you’ve exhausted those avenues then surgery may well help. Spinal manipulation and other non-surgical techniques have their place, but that place is in the first few months of injury. If after several months your back’s still knackered and non-surgical treatments aren’t helping, the last resort could well be the solution.