Some docs rethinking certain spinal surgery

August 6, 2009 2:05:22 PM PDT
New research suggests a common spinal operation used to relieve back pain is no better than make-believe surgery. The procedure is called a "vertebro-plasty" and it uses medical cement to fortify damaged spinal bones.

In two separate studies, one at the Mayo Clinic and another in Australia, patients who were given simulated vertebro-plasties reported the same pain reduction as patients who were given actual ones. Researchers say it's possible that the operation's benefits come from a placebo effect or from the prolonged effects of the numbing medication.

About 38,000 vertebro-plasties are done in the US each year.

Both studies are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.