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Rate of spine surgery soars

The Wall Street Journal, February 16, 2011

A condition known as spinal stenosis is one of the top reasons older Americans seek surgery for lower back pain, and the disorder is expected to grow as the population ages.

Some orthopedic doctors are concerned the procedure has gotten more complicated than it needs to be as some surgeons combine traditional stenosis therapy with other procedures that fuse vertebrae. The more complex surgery can be beneficial for some patients, especially those with more than one spinal disorder. But it also raises the cost of treatment and increases the chances of complications, including stroke and death, recent research shows.

"It has not been shown that the more complex surgery is better [for patients with simple stenosis], but people are willing to have it done," says Eugene J. Caragee, an orthopedic surgeon at Stanford University School of Medicine, who has written on the topic in medical journals. "The marketing is relentless," he says.

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