This health video focuses on the alternatives to help back pain other that surgery.
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Jennifer Matthews: Noah Hano is a tri-athlete. Jay Perera is a grandmother. They've both battled intense back pain for years. One had surgery. One didn't. Both recovered. To operate or not to operate? That's the question Doctor James Weinstein from Dartmouth hopes to answer. Dr. James Weinstein: These patients are in pain. How do we help their pain? And is surgery the best answer? And I would argue that most of the time, it is not. Jennifer Matthews: Doctor Weinstein, who is a back surgeon himself and the editor-in-chief of the journal Spine, is using 14-million dollars from the National Institutes of Health to find out the effects of back surgery. Dr. James Weinstein: You can't undo what you do, so once you've had a back operation, you can't go back and undo it. Jennifer Matthews: Half of the 2,600 study patients will have surgery. Half won't. Weinstein says he doesn't know what the results will be, but he has a hunch. Dr. James Weinstein: Right now, I think we do too much spine surgery in the United States. Jennifer Matthews: In fact, Americans have back surgery two-times more than people in other countries; 10-times more than the UK. We also have the highest rate of failed back surgeries. Dr. James Weinstein: The question is, when you don't really know how to help them exactly, do you still try to do something that may not be effective because you're a physician and want to be healing? Jennifer Matthews: A herniated disc was the source of Noah's pain. His doctor at the time told him to stop exercising. Noah Hano: I was in pretty severe pain to the point where a couple of times, I remember my eyes getting watery. It was just unbearable pain. Jennifer Matthews: Noah was ready to agree to surgery, but his new doctor -- Doctor Weinstein, prescribed exercise instead. Today, his pain is all but gone. Noah Hano: It continues to sort of baffle me as to why I feel so good, but I do. Jennifer Matthews: Then, there's Jay. As arthritis ravaged her spine, she had to learn to garden lying down. She had a fusion 10 months ago. Jay Perera: I had the surgery and once the really heavy anesthesia began to wear off, I realized the pain was gone. Jennifer Matthews: She still has minor pain sometimes, but she is back to gardening on her feet. Doctor Weinstein knows it could have gone either way for Jay or Noah. Dr. James Weinstein: We often believe in our minds what we're doing is the right thing, and yet I think we're challenged by the public more and more that 'is it really correct? Jennifer Matthews: He hopes his study will give some clear-cut answers for the future. This is Jennifer Matthews reporting.