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Doctors Overly Optimistic About Back Surgery

Careful Patient Selection Needed, Says Surgeon

Most Patients Are Poor Candidates

Orthopaedic surgeon Jeffery C. Wang, MD, agrees that doctors need to take medical and psychological issues into consideration when deciding whether a patient will benefit from back surgery.

Wang is chief of the spine service for the UCLA department of orthopaedic surgery and a spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

"The key to any successful surgery is patient selection," he tells WebMD, adding that psychologically distressed patients who otherwise appear to be good candidates for back surgery often have poor surgical results.

Wang says less than 10% of patients with low-back pain are appropriate surgical candidates. And he acknowledges that there are probably too many back surgeries being performed.

"There are certainly doctors who are performing too many surgeries, but that certainly isn't true of everyone," he says. There are very good studies out there showing that if you select the right patient for the right surgery, outcomes are very good."

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