Sham Surgery

Science and Experimentation Aug 24, 2017

The Placebo effect is a curious phenomenon if I've ever looked upon  one. Trials have shown people often react to a placebo in nearly the  identical manner as an actual drug.

A placebo is an  inert substance that has no effect on your body. Placebos such as sugar  pills are often used in medical research as controls against the effects  of experimental drugs.

The phenomenon however of  patients believing to get an actual drug and still improve despite  receiving no active substance at all, has become quite a strange  phenomenon.

Even more strangely this phenomenon has  been shown to work with surgical procedures. Sham surgeries have been  shown to produce results that are equal to surgery, even though no  actual surgery has been carried out.

In one such study  (Mosely et al., 2002) comparing arthroscopic knee surgery with placebo  sham surgery. Patients received either the real surgical treatment, or  arthroscopic lavage only, or a simulated surgery. Keeping things blind  as always neither the patient or the physicians who evaluated them for  24 months after the surgery knew which group they were in.

The  results were measured subjectively by patient reports of pain and level  of function of the afflicted knee. They also carried more objective  tests of walking and stair climbing.

I guess the  strangest result of this experiment was from the patient's reports.  There were no reported differences between the 3 groups. Each group  reported less pain and improved function of the knee. More significantly  the sham surgery group, when measured objectively by the physicians,  measured better at their given tasks like climbing stairs than the  surgery groups.

The authors cautioned "The great  potential for a placebo effect with surgery" and that "health care  researchers should not underestimate the placebo effect, regardless of  its mechanism"

Wow, I'd have to agree. It does beg's the question, why do the invasive surgery in the first place?

Mosely Et Al 2002 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12110735

James Mackay

Hi I'm James, Thanks for visiting and having a read of my stuff! Updates will be sparse for now, but I'll be spending more time on this as I get it!