Webster defines the naturopath as some who implements “a system of treatment of disease that avoids drugs and surgery and emphasizes the use of natural agents”. Patients come in every day to my office with complaints of joint pain, and many, if not most, of them are taking a number of different medications to treat their pain: ibuprofen, aspirin, aleve, tramadol, vicodin, norco, oxycodone, percocet . . . the list goes on. Many are taking does much higher than I would expect saying they need the medications to make it through the day. Their medical physician typically placed them on these medications to help then get by with the severe joint pain.

As an orthopedic surgeon, my treatments are usually the end of the line for people that have struggled with joint pain for months or years, trying every other treatment they can think of – and I would agree that surgery is, in most cases, the last resort. But when I hear their stories – cutting out things they enjoy from their lives, taking higher doses of medications, often narcotics, I think there is a better answer: Have it fixed and move on. I often tell my patients taking 6-12 percocet a day that I am their naturopath – a surgical correction will get them off their medications and restore normal joint function, and in many cases, a more normal life. Yes, weight loss, nutritional changes, exercise and diet all would help eliminate the need to see me at all in the first place, but once the problem is there, no amount of weight loss will correct an serverly arthritic joint once the damage is done.

I have colleagues who are truly naturopaths, nutritional experts, and alternative medicine providers – I respect them for their expertise in their fields and their place in the treatment of patients along with me. I think there is something to it – don’t get hooked on the drugs – just have the problem ‘fixed’. There are risks with surgery, but I argue there may be more significant long term risks with the use of chronic narcotics and anti-inflammatories. There may be a hidden naturopathic approach in orthopedists: solve the problem and eliminate the medications. Your thoughts ?

Dr. Scott Hacker is a Sports Medicine Orthopedic Surgeon in San Diego, CA, Team Surgeon to the US Olympic Team. He specializes in sports medicine and sports injuries, knee and shoulder surgery.

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