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How do you visualize your ‘new life’ beyond surgery? Images such as the one above express an ideal, but how do your expectations shape your chances of a totally pain-free, active life going forward?

In a recent study conducted at Kimitsu Chuo Hospital in Japan, two groups of 49 lumbar spine surgery patients (lumbar disc herniation and laminotomy for lumbar spinal stenosis) were assessed before and after surgery to compare their expectations with their results.

The study found that more than half of the patients expected to become completely leg pain free, while three quarters of them expected to become unlimited in their walking ability.

When the follow up survey was completed 2 years after surgery, the results were that 86% of the lumbar disc herniation patients were satisfied that their expectations had been met. For the spinal stenosis group the amount was 71% even though the clinical results were as successful in both groups.

The results indicated that satisfaction was not guaranteed even if clinical expectations were fully met. The body may be recovering to plan but the mind may not know it. People suffering the same condition tend to have similar expectations that are associated with their condition. Some conditions cause patients to be more optimistic than others.

This aside, the big question is who fairer better – the idealists or the realists? You might think that people who expect less would be more easily satisfied but this was not the case. What the study found was that people who had positive expectations were associated with better health outcomes. Those patients who expected greater pain relief, on average perceived less pain after surgery.

What this study tells us is interesting but it’s only one side of the picture. While positive expectations are important, like everything in life, you have to work at it. Even the best surgery outcome will require the patient themselves to drive their rehabilitation to ensure the quality of life on-going makes the most of the successful procedure. Making a commitment to doing your exercises and avoiding unhealthy life habits is a vital ingredient. If you’re an optimist, you are also more likely to follow a rehab program.

Of course, there is another vital ingredient to a successful surgery outcome. Having a surgeon that is highly experienced will increase the risk of success. Years of seeing countless conditions lead to a rigorous understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Dr Moloney is one of the most trusted neurosurgeons and spinal surgeons in Australia today. He has been practicing since the mid 1980s, and during this time he has delivered a long list of international lectures and played a pioneering role in the introduction of spinal arthroplasty in Australia.

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