Common shoulder surgery may offer no benefit in reducing shoulder pain
10/22/2018 // Ralph Flores // Views

If you want one more reason NOT to go under the knife, you have one right here: Shoulder decompression surgery, a common treatment for alleviating shoulder pain, may not be as cut out as it's supposed to be, according to a study from researchers at Oxford University.

The study indicated that decompression surgery does not lessen pain any more than a placebo surgery for people who suffer from shoulder impingement where the tendons are trapped by the joint of the shoulder. In addition to this, benefits reported from surgery were noted to be minimal as opposed to not having treatment at all.

The study is the first of its kind to test a full procedure against a placebo surgery. The decompression surgery is a keyhole procedure that removes a little part of the bone and the soft tissue in the shoulder joint to prevent it from rubbing against each other when the arm is raised. The placebo surgery is simply a keyhole operation with no tissues removed.

The study included 32 hospitals and 51 surgeons across the U.K. Researchers examined 274 people who had reported lingering shoulder pain for at least three months. The study participants underwent decompression surgery, placebo surgery, and no treatment, respectively. Participants were not told whether they would be receiving a placebo surgery or a compression surgery. After six months, participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their level of pain and function.

Information gathered at this stage showed that levels of pain and mobility for both the patients who had undergone the decompression surgery and those who went through the placebo surgery were at the same level. On a scale of zero to 48, with 48 being the most pain-free, there was no statistical difference in levels between those who had undertaken compression surgery (32.7 points) and those who went through placebo surgery (34.2 points).


Moreover, while both groups who underwent surgery indicated a minor improvement over those who did not go under the knife (29.4 points), the report states that this will not mark any change in symptoms.

The results of the study put the significance of decompression surgery to the fore. Authors of this study suggested that patients who are considering the operation be informed of its value. (Related: Unnecessary surgery exposed! Why 60% of all surgeries are medically unjustified and how surgeons exploit patients to generate profits.)

"Over the past three decades, patients with this form of shoulder pain and clinicians have accepted this surgery in the belief that it provides reliable relief of symptoms, and has a low risk of adverse events and complications," according to Andrew Carr, a co-author of the study. "However, the findings from our study suggest that surgery might not provide a clinically significant benefit over no treatment and that there is no benefit of decompression over placebo surgery."

Authors of the study noted some limitations with the research. Some of the patients did not push through with their assigned control groups: Some people who were under the no treatment group underwent compression surgery, while others who were assigned for surgery did not push through after their symptoms improved. However, these did not impact the results of the study.

Shoulder pain makes up for 4.5 million of visits to the doctor in the U.S. alone. In the U.K., the number of surgeries has skyrocketed in the past decade from 2,523 in 2000 to 21,355 in 2010.

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