- Ian Harris, an Australian Orthopedic surgeon and Professor has confessed to performing surgery "that doesn't work" in response to pressure from patients and other factors, in his new book, 'Surgery, The Ultimate Placebo'
- "I have operated on people that didn't have anything wrong with them in the first place. This happens because if a patient complains enough to a surgeon, one of the easiest ways of satisfying them is to operate." - Ian Harris
- Dr. Harris also admits that the evidence for the success of many surgical procedures has become accepted without proper scrutiny, and that the only benefit of some surgeries may actually be a 'placebo effect.'
“Largely, surgeons believe that they are doing the right thing, but often they are not aware of the strength (or weakness) of the supporting evidence or, what is more often the case, there is simply no substantial or convincing scientific evidence available.”
- One of the dozen or more surgeries he criticizes is that for Tennis Elbow - In his opinion, surgery for Lateral Epicondylitis / Tennis Elbow is:
"Another procedure that is in decline. The condition largely gets better over time and surgery doesn't add anything to that process."
- His book, 'Surgery, The Ultimate Placebo - A Surgeon Cuts Through The Evidence' is available online through New South Books (link below) and on Amazon: Surgery The Ultimate Placebo, by Dr. Ian Harris
The Placebo Effect In A Controlled Knee Surgery Trial
This fascinating piece, featuring Dr. Bruce Moseley, discusses one of the surgical studies that include a placebo control group, lending weight to Dr. Harris' claims. It references this study from 2002:
'A Controlled Trial of Arthroscopic Surgery for Osteoarthritis of the Knee'
- 180 patients with knee arthritis were randomly assigned to three groups for the study. Two groups received actual arthroscopic surgical procedures (débridement and lavage) And the third group received a fake / "sham" surgery.
- "In this controlled trial involving patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, the outcomes after arthroscopic lavage or arthroscopic débridement were no better than those after a placebo procedure."
In other words, the people who _thought_ they were having surgery improved just as much as the people who DID have surgery!
The Tennis Elbow Surgery 'Placebo' Study
- A more recent medical study from 2012 lends even more credence to Dr. Harris' claims - especially when it comes to Tennis Elbow surgery.
This is apparently the first time a study was done to compare the standard Tennis Elbow surgical procedure against the placebo effect by giving a "fake" / sham surgery to the control group.
- The surprising result was that a "fake" placebo procedure performed no better than a genuine Tennis Elbow surgery!
- Both groups actually improved - (The control group apparently only because of the placebo effect) - The key point, however, is that the group which received the real surgery didn't end up doing any better - and were in more pain at the 2-week mark because of the surgery!
When Is It Time To Consider Surgery?
- If you have Golfer's or Tennis Elbow and you're at the point where you're starting to think about surgery, my article, linked below, has some important considerations (including the placebo effect) that it may help you to think about: