The Side Effects of Orthopedic Surgery: Doubling Down at the Great Orthopedic Surgery Casino

What are the side effects of orthopedic surgery? One of the more disturbing things we see in interventional orthopedics is patients who have undergone multiple aggressive types of orthopedic surgery. The behavior is a bit like a gambler at a casino. If you don’t hit it big the first time, keep doubling down until you hit it or are bankrupt. Regrettably, we often see patients get very, very injured by this approach. Yesterday, Dr. Markle, from our Colorado office, relayed a story that really highlights how bad this can be.

All Surgery Does Harm

The side effects of orthopedic surgery are real. Patients often forget or just don’t know that every surgical procedure does harm. It’s impossible to cut into the body and not damage tissue. The only question is whether the possible benefits outweigh the harm. Here the calculus is easy. If you have a less invasive procedure that is lower risk, the possible benefits don’t have to be as much to make the math work in the patient’s favor. However, the bigger and more invasive the procedure, the bigger the weight it must carry that it provides a clear benefit.

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Dr. Markle’s Patient

This is the patient’s story in Dr. Markle’s words:

Just evaluated a 26yr male who previously was a collegiate catcher with anterior knee pain. Over the last 8 years he had knee pain that his ortho doctors had been treating with IA steroids q2–3 months from age 18 to 24! 
Then subsequently did 3 scopes and did microfractures underneath the patella each time (none helped with his pain)…then continued to have pain so 5 months ago they decided to relocate the tibial tuberosity to move the patella insertion. THEN to top it off, post op they decided to do a blinded sciatic and femoral nerve block that injured both of these and now with persistent leg pain and numbness but mild weakness…EMG showing decreased recruitment”

To summarize, we have a college baseball catcher who had steroids pumped into his knee 3–5 times a year for eight years. If you read this blog, you know that these injections will kill cartilage and local stem cells, the opposite of what we want. First, he had three knee microfracture surgeries, none of which helped. These surgeries involve poking holes in the bone. Each of these surgeries caused scar tissue. Then, in a body tuned to micromillimeter precision, another surgery was performed in which they moved his quadriceps tendon from where it should live to a new spot, leaving him with chronic tendinopathy. Finally, the blind nerve blocks performed on important leg nerves injured those structures. So this patient knows at a visceral level about the side effects of orthopedic surgery.

The Orthopedic Surgery Casino Is Not Kind to Patients

This is just one example of how patients just keep allowing surgeons to continue to injure their joints with more and escalating orthopedic surgery. We’ve seen patients who are on their 8th–12th surgery in the same joint, and that joint, largely due to the surgeries, is trashed.

So what can you do to prevent this insanity? Don’t allow yourself or a loved one to get suckered into a second, third, or subsequent procedure. If the first procedure fails, get opinions from multiple physicians (both surgical and nonsurgical). In addition, make sure you try all nonsurgical regenerative medicine options from qualified physicians.

The upshot? Don’t be like that poor guy at the casino who keeps betting despite being on a serious losing streak. They usually roll that guy out at the crack of dawn with empty pockets and a hangover. Don’t be that patient who knows all too well about the side effects of orthopedic surgery! So the possible benefits need to outweigh the injury the procedure will cause. If you don’t get relief from the first procedure, STOP, LOOK FOR OUTSIDE OPINIONS, AND THINK.

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.