Woman’s life transformed by unbelievable placebo treatment for chronic pain | Horizon – BBC

Woman’s life transformed by unbelievable placebo treatment for chronic pain | Horizon – BBC


Professor Andy Carr is a surgeon and researcher at Oxford University. In 2012, he carried out an ambitious study:
He didn’t give patients fake pills, he gave them fake surgery. He had concerns about a chromeoplasty. In England and Wales we know that around 20
to 25,000 of these operations are performed every year, so it’s an extremely commonly
performed operation. And what concerned us was that there’d never
been a proper trial, looking at it’s effectiveness compared to other treatments. The operation involved removing a spur of
bone from the shoulder, which was thought to relieve pain. For Andy’s trial, volunteers were randomly
selected to receive either real surgery or a fake procedure, in which they would be
cut open but the piece of bone left in tact. What can you do now that you couldn’t do before? Andy’s put me in touch with one of his brave
volunteers. This is something that I would not have been
able to do prior to the surgery. Right. I was in pain when I was moving, trying to
move my arm. But then eventually it got so bad that I could
hardly sleep. Right, so at this point in time you were kind
of prepared to try almost anything. Yes I was. Definitely. On the day of the surgery, Carol arrived at
the hospital unaware whether she’d be receiving the real operation or not. So, Carol is put to sleep. At that stage I don’t know what she’s been
assigned to, whether it’s the real operation or the placebo. And in fact, I don’t know until I’m actually
operating on her. So we got her draped up, we put the telescope
in the joint. I’m looking inside the joint and then I am
told, by a member of the research team, that Carol was in the placebo group. So she was not going to have the operation
and I was just simply going to look inside, make the two incisions that are characteristic
of the operation. She then was taken round to the recovery bay
and was looked after as she woke up and she went home that day. So you come out, but you still had no idea
whether you had the real surgery or sham surgery yes? No, so I had a very strong sense of having
had surgery in terms of I was in a lot of pain afterwards, I had to have my arm in a
sling for 4 or 5 days. And then I had some fairly minimal physiotherapy,
and then just gradually over the weeks it got better and better. Carol had experienced a miraculous recovery,
possibly down to the experience of surgery triggering a rush of pain killing chemicals. And she wasn’t the only one. We saw no difference between the real operation,
where we removed the spur and removed soft tissue, and the placebo operation where we
simply look inside the joint. The treatment effect, the gain for the patients
was exactly the same.

20 thoughts on “Woman’s life transformed by unbelievable placebo treatment for chronic pain | Horizon – BBC”

  1. It's a pity I didn't get fake surgery for my fistula, now I have a scar… and it was also useless for my pneumothorax!…

  2. It's double blind up until the surgeon is informed, then it is only single blind.
    Presumably the surgeon follows up with the patient and that interaction is rigorously prepared for and documented so the patients have no clue if they're in the placebo group, until they see themselves on the BBC.
    To preserve the integrity of the study the reporter should not have been told who was placebo but just given several patients from each group to interview.
    Hopefully the report itself will encourage more such studies and patient willingness to participate.

  3. It's interesting, but she WAS put under and cut open, she DID have all the normal painkillers and her body had to recover and mend in the same way. So it's not like a Placebo Pill that does nothing physically. The long procedure would have the same traumatic effect on the body in both cases. It's NOT a direct comparison of Surgery vs No Surgery, it's a slightly simplified version of the same Surgery.

  4. Pretty sure my brain tells me stuff is painful that shouldn't be, it's a powerful thing. When material against my skin can feel like needles poking me, and tiredness from a few hours less sleep can make me feel so nauseous I'm sick, I don't doubt that it can go the other way with the placebo effect.

  5. What a load of shit. So they have knocked people out, with all the dangers associated with anæsthetic, opened them up, with all the dangers associated with it and the potential for infection, just to prove a point? I hope this doesn't become a standard practice because I don't really get the point. It's one thing to give placebo "pills", it's an entirely different game to go into an expensive surgical situation. If there's a procedure that fixes this problem, then will they give it too her once she sees this video and immediately relapses into pain? I totally get the need to understand the placebo effect but this seems a risky way to go about it. PS: Either that surgeon is wearing contact lenses to match his scrubs or there's something very peculiar with the colour in this video.

  6. It’s a shame this clip stops before the crucial bit from the surgeon which was effectively: “This shows the surgery is useless therefore I no longer do it”. Her improvement was probably from the painkillers, rest and physio.

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