placebo surgeryWe know so little about the human abilities that some simple truths can confound even a scientist. The placebo effect is one of those events that just lead modern science to a quandary. Can a dummy pill together with a person’s faith really work miracles?

The amazing power of placebo has been repeatedly confirmed in various studies. Moreover, it is confirmed all the time in the analysis of drugs whose effectiveness is compared with the effect of pacifiers. Pain, depression, and certain neurological diseases are particularly amenable to treatment with dummy pills. The power of one’s faith is enough even for the effect of “fake” surgeries.

What about the power of faith to get rid of the need for surgery on a damaged vertebra? It is about vertebroplasty. This type of intervention is used a patient suffers from severe pain as a result of a compression fracture of the vertebral body. Then with the help of special equipment medical cement is introduced into the vertebral body, which helps return to its former shape and strengthens the vertebra from the inside, forming its structure.

How the placebo effect can be associated with the surgery? A new BBC documentary tells about the healing power of the mind. Dr. David Kallmes has specialized in vertebroplasty surgery in the Mayo Clinic for the last 15 years and is a leading surgeon in this area. He believes that the ‘fake’ surgery is as effective as the real one.

He first thought about it when he pointed out that the quality of the surgery is not always associated with the effect. Sometimes, even after not a very successful surgery, patients feel fine.

Of course, Kallmes does not argue that the placebo effect can replace resection of the tumor. However, doctors are beginning to realize that the placebo has certain effectiveness, even in surgery.



Kallmes decided to conduct an experiment to prove whether vertebroplasty is more effective than the placebo. Some of the patients underwent vertebroplasty, and some were subjected to a simulation without realizing that. Their fate was decided with the help of a random computer selection. It was a well-played performance: preparation, local anesthesia, the surgeon’s puncture and words. Even the smell of medical cement was present in both cases.

Some patients had serious enough disorders of the spine. However, eventually it turned out that vertebroplasty had no statistically significant differences compared with the placebo surgery. Of course, the patients’ bones did not recover, but the pain was gone. The function was recovered equally.

It was shocking information, because more than one million surgeries of this kind have already been performed all over the world. At the same time, patients who underwent vertebroplasty or placebo surgery felt better than before surgery or simulation.

It is difficult to talk about the ethical side of the placebo surgery. Nevertheless, it is a bright example of the untapped potential of the human mind.



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Anna LeMind

Anna LeMind

Anna is the founder and lead editor of the website Learning-mind.com. She is passionate about learning new things and reflecting on thought-provoking ideas. She writes about science, psychology and other related topics. She is particularly interested in topics regarding introversion, consciousness and subconscious, perception, human mind's potential, as well as the nature of reality and the universe.