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Reevaluating Shoulder Surgery: Insights from Orthopedic Surgeon

February 25, 2024

Reevaluating Shoulder Surgery: Insights from Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Ian Harris's Surgery, The Ultimate Placebo

As a physical therapist deeply involved in shoulder rehabilitation, I've been particularly influenced by the provocative work of Dr. Ian Harris, especially his book Surgery, The Ultimate Placebo, and his teachings on YouTube. Dr. Harris, an orthopedic surgeon himself, raises critical questions about the effectiveness of many common surgical procedures, including those for shoulder conditions. In this blog, we’ll explore his perspective on shoulder surgery and consider its implications for both patients and healthcare providers.


Dr. Ian Harris's Stance on Shoulder Surgery:

In his writings and talks, Dr. Harris argues that some shoulder surgeries may not be more effective than non-surgical treatments or even placebo procedures. He points to a lack of robust evidence supporting the efficacy of certain surgeries and highlights the powerful influence of the placebo effect.


Common Shoulder Surgeries Under Scrutiny:

  1. Arthroscopic Rotator Cuff Repair:
    • Traditionally used to repair torn rotator cuffs, the efficacy of this surgery has been questioned, particularly for partial tears or in cases where patients have similar outcomes with physical therapy alone.
  2. Arthroscopic Subacromial Decompression:
    • Performed for shoulder impingement, this surgery involves removing bony spurs and inflamed tissue. However, Dr. Harris notes that studies have shown the outcomes to be similar to those of non-surgical interventions, such as physiotherapy or even sham surgeries.
  3. Shoulder Joint Replacement:
    • While beneficial for severe joint degeneration, the decision for shoulder joint replacement should be weighed against potential risks and the effectiveness of alternative treatments.


The Placebo Effect in Surgery:

One of Dr. Harris's key arguments is the significant role of the placebo effect in surgery. Patients often report improvement post-surgery, but this improvement may stem from their belief in the surgery's efficacy rather than the actual surgical intervention.


The Importance of Evidence-Based Practice:

Dr. Harris advocates for an evidence-based approach to medicine. He urges both patients and healthcare professionals to critically examine the scientific evidence supporting surgical procedures.


Non-Surgical Alternatives for Shoulder Conditions:

  1. Physical Therapy:
    • Physical therapy offers a range of treatments, including exercises, manual therapy, and pain management techniques, that can be effective for shoulder conditions without the risks associated with surgery.
  2. Lifestyle Modifications:
    • Adjusting daily activities to reduce shoulder strain and practicing ergonomic principles can also help manage shoulder pain.
  3. Pain Management:
    • Non-surgical pain management strategies, including medications and injections, can provide relief, especially when combined with physical therapy.


The Role of Informed Decision-Making:

Dr. Harris emphasizes the importance of informed decision-making in healthcare. Patients should be fully aware of the potential risks and benefits of shoulder surgery and understand the alternatives available to them.


Implications for Healthcare Providers:

For healthcare providers, Dr. Harris's work is a call to critically evaluate the procedures we recommend. It encourages a shift towards more conservative and evidence-based treatments, particularly for conditions where the benefits of surgery are not clear-cut.

The insights from Dr. Ian Harris's Surgery, The Ultimate Placebo invite us to reevaluate the role of surgery in treating shoulder conditions. His perspective challenges both patients and healthcare practitioners to consider non-surgical options and to make decisions based on the best available evidence. As we advance in the field of medicine, it becomes increasingly important to embrace treatments that are not only effective but also based on solid scientific evidence.

This blog discusses the skepticism surrounding the efficacy of certain shoulder surgeries, inspired by Dr. Ian Harris's teachings and his book Surgery, The Ultimate Placebo. It aims to encourage a more evidence-based and cautious approach to shoulder treatment, highlighting the importance of considering non-surgical alternatives.

Free Resource: Dr Gorecki's and Dr Fuson's book: The Truth Unveiled: Secrets to Shoulder Pain Relief. The book is free and so is shipping! Get your copy here: Shoulder Pain Book | Superior Physical Therapy (thesuperiortherapy.com)


Get Dr. Harris' book on Amazon: Surgery, the Ultimate Placebo


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