Shoulder pain is an incredibly common problem — with about 50 percent of adults experiencing it in any given year, leading to 4.5 million doctor visits annually.
But a new study published in the prestigious journal The Lancet shows a common surgery performed to alleviate shoulder pain, including rotator cuff pain, turns out to offer little to no improvement for patients.
I’ll tell you all about that eye-opening study in a moment. But first, let’s back up…
Shoulder poses challenge for orthopedists
Shoulder pain is just as common as knee and hip pain. But because of the complexity of the joint, it poses more of a treatment challenge for orthopedists.
The knee is essentially just a hinge joint. And the hip is just a ball-and-socket joint. Therefore, they’re easier to fix — and easier to even completely replace. Indeed, orthopedic surgeons often push unnecessary knee and hip replacements to their patients so they can essentially start over with a “clean slate.”
By comparison, several bones come together to make the shoulder joint space: the collarbone in front, the shoulder blade in back, and the humorous of the arm below. With this complex design, the shoulder can work like a hinge (try “flapping” your arm up and down, like a wing). And — it can also work like a ball-in-socket (try moving your arm around in circles).
Over the years, orthopedists have wanted to get in on the shoulder pain market. So, they often push an invasive surgical procedure to help their patients deal with the pain. But a new study shows patients fare just as well when nothing is done to the joint…
Allow for the “tincture of time”
For this new study, researchers in the U.K. recruited participants from 32 hospitals who had experienced shoulder pain for at least three months. Each of the participants had also received non-surgical pain management, including physical therapy and steroid injections (which I don’t recommend), prior to the study’s outset.
Then, the researchers divided the participants into three groups…
Ninety participants received decompression surgery as well as one to four post-op physical therapy sessions.
It’s important to note here that decompression surgery is one of the most common orthopedic surgeries performed in the U.S. And it’s often performed on people with rotator cuff pain. During this procedure, a small area of bone and connective tissue in the joint is removed, opening a window to prevent scraping when the arm is moved. Back to the study…
Ninety-four patients received a “sham” procedure as placebo. For the sham procedure, surgeons looked inside the joint but didn’t remove any tissue. These participants also received the physical therapy after surgery.
(Patients in these two groups were unaware of which procedure they received.)
The remaining 90 patients had no treatment at all. Instead, they had one check-up three months later.
During the following six to 12 months, shoulder pain improved in all three groups. And the researchers observed no significant differences among the three groups.
The researchers emphasized the lack of benefit from the invasive surgical procedure compared to the sham surgery placebo.
But I was struck by another finding…
The zero treatment group fared no worse than either surgery group.
So, basically, just letting the shoulder heal by itself over time worked just as well as the real surgery and sham surgery. This finding reminds me of a variation on the old admonition: “Just don’t stand there, do something.” Instead, “don’t just do something, stand there,” is often good advice when it comes to surgery.
If you have shoulder pain, skip the useless decompression surgery. (Seems to me the only “decompression” that occurs from this surgery is directly to the patients’ wallets.)
One New York orthopedic surgeon criticized the study because they sent patients in for surgery after three months of non-surgical treatments.
He believes they should’ve sent patients into surgery immediately to get a better outcome.
Do invasive surgery, before even trying anything else? What’s the logic there? Especially considering the trial results showing how untreated patients fared just as well as those who received surgery! (Perhaps orthopedists are better at finance than logic…)
Have we forgotten “First, do no harm”?
It’s a similar story when it comes to artificial hip replacement and knee replacement surgeries. In fact, as I told you back in 2014, there’s a good chance that undergoing any kind of joint surgery won’t make the pain go away.
In one eye-opening study, U.S. researchers found that only 44 percent of knee replacement surgeries are “appropriate.” Twenty-two percent were “inconclusive.” And a whopping 34 percent were considered “inappropriate” to begin with.
Plus, getting your knee or hip replaced can substantially increase your risk of having a post-surgery heart attack. It can also make you more susceptible to having potentially fatal blood clots for years after the procedure.
Plus, as time goes by, a huge percentage of these failed or inappropriate replacements will need revision or replacement. (So, replacing the replacements?)
Those aren’t very good statistics, particularly for the millions of people who undergo these elective surgeries in hopes of improving their quality of life. And what ever happened to doctors adhering to the Hippocratic Oath they took? “First, do no harm…”
Opt for natural solutions over surgery
In my view, you should always try natural approaches before resorting to any surgery.
But don’t bother with taking glucosamine and chondroitin, the darling supplements routinely recommended by some “natural-know-it-alls” for decades. Recent studies have shown that these tired, old joint supplements aren’t all that effective.
Firstly, these compounds aren’t easily absorbed in the gut. It’s very unlikely that the full effectiveness of these compounds will make the trek into your cartilage.
Secondly, glucosamine and chondroitin do not stop inflammation. And reducing joint inflammation is a very important first step in naturally rebuilding cartilage.
Fortunately, ashwagandha, boswellia, and curcumin — my ABCs of joint health — can target and reduce inflammation in your shoulders, knees, or hips. They work so well in combination, I’ve even heard from readers who’ve canceled their surgeries after using my ABCs of joint health. I recommend 400 to 500 mg of each supplement, once daily.
You can learn more about the ABCs of joint health — as well as other natural alternatives — in my drug-free plan for easing and eliminating arthritis pain: my Arthritis Relief and Reversal Protocol. Simply click here to learn more or enroll today.
P.S. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you more about the many health benefits of the curcumin ingredient in this combo. Stay tuned!
“Arthroscopic subacromial decompression for subacromial shoulder pain (CSAW): a multicentre, pragmatic, parallel group, placebo-controlled, three-group, randomized surgical trial,” The Lancet January 2018; 391(10118): 329-338
“Is a Common Shoulder Surgery Useless?” HealthDay (consumer.healthday.com) 11/22/17