4 ways to decide if it’s time to get surgery
February 16, 2018
Surgery is often the definitive answer when it comes to relieving severe joint pain, treating heart conditions, correcting spinal injuries, and fighting obesity. If you experience any of these things, you’ve probably heard that you will, at some point, need surgery. The question then shifts from “do I need surgery?” to “when should I have surgery?”. Of course, the answer varies between individuals and depends on many factors — your overall health, the impact of your condition on your quality of life, and whether non-surgical treatments are successful.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, there are 4 ways you can identify whether it’s time for you to schedule your surgery.
1. It may be time to get surgery if…you’ve tried to manage the pain through non-surgical methods without success
Typically, the first step in treating any condition is exhausting all reasonable non-surgical treatments available. If you’re dealing with joint pain, you may be all too familiar with the injections, medications, and physical therapies used to manage that pain. For people with heart disease or spinal conditions, there may not be as many non-surgical options available but, emergencies aside, your doctor is unlikely to send you directly to an operating table at the first sign of a problem.
In fact, some painful conditions can be fully managed without surgery. One study done by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) found that out of 205 people who had knee replacement surgery, a third of those surgeries were unnecessary because they didn’t have arthritis that was advanced enough to warrant the surgery. The study then went on to discover that only the people who had significant pain, limited mobility, and documented medical evidence that their knee was significantly damaged benefited from knee surgery. After the surgery, the people who truly needed a knee replacement were able to better function and were relieved of a lot of pain.
While this is just one example, the same logic can be used across all types of surgeries meant to alleviate pain. The true measure of success with non-surgical treatment options is becoming pain-free — not simply being able to tolerate the pain. If these methods aren’t working, it’s a good indicator that surgery is going to be your best option.
Similarly, weight loss surgery is often a last-resort option, only being advised if you’ve tried diet and exercise first. This process is differentiated from knee, hip, cardiac, and spinal surgeries in that one of the eligibility requirements for bariatric (weight loss) surgery is that you must have tried (unsuccessfully) to lose weight through non-surgical options before you are even considered for weight loss surgery.
2. It may be time to get surgery if…your pain or condition is getting worse
If your joint pain is getting worse, your heart or spinal condition becoming more severe, or your weight gain increasing, it’s probably time to get surgery. While this may seem obvious, many people put off surgery with the hope that, eventually, their condition will become more manageable or subside altogether. Unfortunately, if you’ve already tried non-surgical treatments and your pain is getting worse, it’s a sign that the methods you’re using are ineffective.
To relieve your pain or improve your condition, surgery is a great option. Nonetheless, deciding to get surgery can feel overwhelming. Most surgeries are relatively safe and, when you use a high-quality surgeon like those provided by Carrum Health, your surgery-related risks are minimized. The most important thing to remember is that more than likely, your suffering can be alleviated through surgery.
3. It may be time to get surgery if…your quality of life is declining
Your quality of life goes hand in hand with the amount of pain or discomfort you feel in your daily life. When you’re in a great deal of pain, have conditions that affect your overall health and wellbeing, and are constantly working to manage these things, other elements of your life are compromised. While the medical definition of quality of life is “the patient’s ability to enjoy normal life activities,” each person may understand this differently. Some examples of quality of life include:
- Your physical comfort
- Your mobility
- Your independence
- The ability to keep a job that you like
- The health and happiness of your relationships with friends and family
- How your mood is affected by the pain or condition you have
When your quality of life declines, it’s easy to get discouraged. High levels of pain, obesity, and other health concerns can wreak havoc on your stress and overall emotional and mental health, not to mention your physical ability to do the things that sustain you and bring you joy. Simply put, you are more than the sum of the pain you experience and that can and should be part of your decision to get surgery.
4. It’s time to get surgery if…your doctor advises that surgery is your best option
Even once you’ve decided, based on the above 3 methods, that you’re ready to get surgery, you’ll need to turn to your doctor for a recommendation. Your doctor should only recommend surgery if it’s essential, you’ve exhausted your other options, your pain is getting worse, and/or your quality of life is being affected by your pain or condition.
This doesn’t mean that your doctor has the final call, however. If you believe that you need surgery and your doctor disagrees, don’t hesitate to seek out a second (or third) opinion. You know your body better than anyone and can advocate for your health by openly communicating with your physician, keeping a record of the non-surgical treatments you’ve tried, and insisting that your preference is taken into consideration when talking about whether surgery makes sense for you. Ultimately, you will need a physician’s recommendation for surgery to pre-qualify as a candidate for Carrum Health’s program.
Deciding that it’s time to get surgery is not easy but, if you’ve identified that any of the above is true, you’re probably ready to move on to the next step. You can schedule a consultation with Carrum Health to talk about next steps.