Often I get the question "My doctor says I need to have surgery. Can Postural Therapy prevent me from this?"
The honest answer? Maybe. To give a definitive answer you have to consider factors such as:
- length of time you've had pain without addressing the root cause
- degree of severity of your current condition
- lifestyle factors
To begin, let me state emphatically that we are NOT talking about blunt force traumas or devastating injury due to external circumstances to which surgery is the best option. This post specifically discusses the question "Can postural therapy prevent surgery for chronic muscle and joint pain due to postural imbalances and incorrect motor patterns?"
In a perfect world where every individual is in tune with their own body and proactive in addressing pain from the root cause and not the symptom, then YES, postural therapy can easily help a person avoid the need for surgery.
But it isn't as simple as that.
As humans the majority of us go through our early years incurring small injuries, restrictions in mobility, incorrect motor patterns and carry on with activities of daily life without giving these events much thought or significance.
When pain episodes strike as they will, we chalk them up to all sorts of unmerited reasons (it's my age, my gender, my sport, etc). Some work through the pain, medicate, try a variety of modalities like PT, adjustments, massage, immobilize or remove ourselves from particular activities to mitigate symptoms.
You may feel better, but let me be frank. You're only borrowing time.
Without a change to the position of the body, this cycle can go on for weeks to years until serious pain sets in - or worse - a completely debilitating pain or injury occurs.
Sadly, some wait until pain escalates to a very serious level before seeking intervention. Two scenarios can occur here:
- Sometimes people wait too long and the medical diagnosis reveals an excessive amount of damage that truly requires surgical intervention (ruptured tendon or ligaments, completely bone-on-bone)
- The medical reports reveal nothing. Systemically there is no major trauma, tendon, ligament, or joint to repair, and yet surgery is still recommended.
If you're given a diagnosis and treatment option like surgery it is scary and bewildering, especially if nothing shows up on the MRI reports and you've done nothing you can think of differently in your life to create the pain you are experiencing.
And that is EXACTLY the problem. The Chronic Pain Cycle has never been broken by identifying, addressing and treating the ROOT CAUSE of the problem.
So if you've been given a treatment option such as surgery, and your internal body wisdom encourages you to seek out an alternative solution... Posture Alignment Therapy may be right for you! We excel at helping you address the more important question: Why did this happen in the first place?
Can Postural Therapy Prevent Me From Surgery?
Who wouldn’t rather explore the option of lasting pain relief prior to submitting to a surgically invasive procedure? Professionally, I believe that the human body has an innate capability of healing itself if given just half a chance.
Postural Therapy is well known for a high success rate at resolving chronic pain without medication, manipulation or surgery, so YES - Posture Alignment Therapy CAN prevent surgery.
I've had many clients who've been able to avoid surgical procedures. Thankfully, these clients chose to listen to their inner wisdom and seek out and act on another option without undergoing the knife. It involved work and responsibility to address the underlying root cause of why the pain occurred (position) versus treating the pain site specifically (pain).
If there is cartilage left in a joint, and you take proactive steps to retrain the joint position and muscle engagement around that joint enabling it move properly, it can heal.
One of the best summarizations on how the body can heal comes from my colleague Matt Hsu of Upright Health (San Diego, CA). On his FAQ page he writes:
Discs do not bulge without a reason. Nerves do not get irritated without a reason. Pain does not surface without a reason. No matter what kind of pain you have, it's important to recognize that the pain is not CONSTANT (or if it is constant these days, then recognize that it wasn't always constant) because it means the reason for your pain is subject to the changing positioning of your body.
By gently retraining your body's muscle memory, you can realign your body -- moving discs, nerves, and muscles back into the right positions -- so your body can stop signaling (with pain) that there's something wrong.
If you’re considering surgery to deal with your pain, I encourage you to look into the available research literature for the surgery you’re considering. The long-term effectiveness of most “pain-curing” surgeries tends to be rather discouraging and the loss in quality of life is immeasurable, even when deemed "successful." If you think never being able to walk or run quickly again is a fair trade-off for relief of back or knee pain, then by all means consider surgery.
As for mind-altering painkillers, if you’re happy operating in a fog while continuing to do more damage to your body, by all means do so! If you’re at this website, you probably aren’t happy with that."
Now that said, again, this is all in reference to addressing and correcting the ROOT CAUSE of the pain BEFORE irreparable damage is done.
That's not always the case for every client I see. Some come in too late and there's ligament or tendon rupture, or the joint is completely degraded. In those cases we use postural therapy to mitigate pain and improve their mechanics and activities of daily living in order to prepare for surgery. Then we pick up again to continue improving mobility and function post surgery to ensure that the body stays balanced and no other compensations or dysfunctions set in.
In those instances, the client wanted to ensure that there would't be any future joint breakdowns due to muscle and joint imbalances post surgery.
Perhaps one of the best examples of using postural therapy to avoid surgery is to examine one of the most famous posture alignment therapy clients out there: Jack Nicklaus.
The Golden Bear is well known in for writing the forward to Pete Egoscue's best selling book The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion.
"Pete Egoscue has totally changed my life.
Never have I experienced such complete pain relief as I have by following the Egoscue Method".
- Jack Nicklaus
Nicklaus began working with Egoscue in 1988. At that time he was dealing with extreme back pain and found himself unable to golf in a major tournament. Doctors recommended a discectomy or a discectomy/spinal fusion surgery, to which they could not guarantee that he would likely never play golf successfully again. Unable to play, Nicklaus was faced with having to retire before he was ready.
Interestingly, he also had a history of hip pain that could be traced back 25 years earlier. In USATODAY: Jack Nicklaus Tees Up Hip Replacement Awareness, author John Morgan writes:
"In 1963 I hurt my left hip playing golf," says Nicklaus, who was named Individual Male Athlete of the Century by Sports Illustrated. "Back then I had about 25 cortisone injections in a ten-week period. I asked my doctor if these might have caused further injury, and he said they probably did."
Nicklaus gives Pete Egoscue and Postural Therapy credit for helping him deal with debilitating back pain and allowing him to continue golf and avoid back surgery. His back pain was the symptom, the root cause was the dysfunction in the hip.
Postural therapy helped correct Nicklaus's load joint (ankle, knee, hip and shoulder) biomechanics and restore his postural position which allowed his pelvis and spine to return to their proper positions and heal.
Nicklaus went on to join the Senior Tour and win another ten major tournaments. He retired in April 1996, eight years after doctors had recommended back surgery. But that's not the whole story. In 1999, Nicklaus underwent hip replacement surgery. As Morgan writes:
"But eventually the Egoscue exercises that Nicklaus has done every day since 1988 were unable to relieve his hip pain for longer than an hour.
"Just going to the shopping center with my wife would hurt so much I would have to sit down," explains the 63 year-old Nicklaus, who is renowned for his golf course designs. "When my hip started hurting my quality of life – adversely affecting my ability to do activities with my family, my wife, my grandkids – I decided I needed to get it looked at. And sure enough I had osteoarthritis in my hip."
Nicklaus's first instance of a chronic pain episode dated back to 1963. He tried all sorts of modalities to mitigate his pain, but that didn't correct his position. Imagine golfing and walking miles on an imbalanced hip for 25 years before starting posture alignment therapy. Remember he was at risk for a lumbar discectomy and possible fusion. But the real problem was his hip joint mechanics.
What's the take away?
Although the hip joint ultimately had to be replaced, Mr. Nicklaus avoided career ending back surgery due to his hip dysfunction.
Posture alignment therapy helped him:
- align and correct his 4 major load joints and posture
- reduce pain
- address the joint dysfucntions and muscular compensations throughout the body
- improve mobility and athletic performance
- buy himself pain relief and time until the pain from the past hip joint damage became so severe theat surgery was required
The good news is that he's much less likely to be susceptible to any further muscle and joint problems post joint replacement surgery.
So yes, Postural therapy can help you avoid surgery when you address and correct the underlying root cause of the problem (why your tendons, ligaments and joints are stressed, inflamed or starting to degenerate/herniate/rupture, etc) before unrepairable damage is done.
And if you do have to have surgery, so be it. Postural therapy will still help you to improve your joint position and muscle length tension relationship around the area, reduce pain, and increase mobility. You'll recover and return to a pain free life and living that much faster.
We’re confident that that the same will be true for you.