Should You Go Under the Knife?


So you’ve been dealing with extreme pain for quite a while now, maybe in your knees or in your lower back and medication is not providing the same sort of pain relief that they once did. You go to your doctor, desperate for a solution. “Let’s investigate further, get some scans” they may  suggest. You go for said scans and the results are not good, the outlook is terrible. The report reads something like a doomsday letter – “massive eruption of tendon”, or “extreme protrusion of sac on nerves” or “end stage degenerative joint disease”. Your doctor reads the report as your palms begin to sweat. “Ah this is why you are in so much pain” they exclaim. Straight to the orthopaedic surgeon! A few days later you walk through the doors of the lush clinical orthopaedic surgery ready for going under the knife.

Is It Necessary?

It has been long known that scans show a lot of things which may not be the cause of your pain, especially when your pain is chronic. Evidence shows that MRI results are a poor way to find the cause of chronic pain, furthermore they can actually lead to worse outcomes than if they had not been done at all. Why is this so? Studies show that almost no matter which area of the body goes under, there is a high percentage that you will find something wrong even in parts that don’t give you pain.

Recent evidence is now showing that many of the surgeries that have been used for a long time to correct the anatomical deficits found in scans to be useless. Take for example knee osteoarthritis. Knee osteoarthritis is very common and in even the worst cases does not always result in pain. One study was conducted where real knee surgery was performed versus sham surgery where the surgeons would just create an incision in the skin. The study was conducted over a few years where subjects would report their function and to no surprise, both groups reported equally better knee pain and function at all points in time. This strongly suggests that surgery may not be effective due to the structural changes made but by the change in psychology of the person who had the surgery. Subsequent research has also proved that surgeries for the knee for osteoarthritis are no more effective than interventions such as physiotherapy, exercise, weight loss and over the counter medicine.

Not all surgeries are useless but some are. Sometimes a well designed rehab solution is what is needed to keep you from being on that surgeons table.

If you have any questions or would like to book in to see one of our physiotherapists, please do not hesitate to contact Get Active Physiotherapy on 1300 8 9 10 11 or email us at

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