Physical Therapy or Surgery for Back Pain?

April 08, 2015

2 min read

Physical Therapy or surgery, what is the best option for back pain?

When it comes to lumbar(low-back) stenosis, physical therapy seems to be more effective! A recent study conducted by Harvard Medical School evaluated 170 people in their 60’s diagnosed with lumbar stenosis.

These people were randomly assigned to receive either surgery or physical therapy. The surgery removed areas of bone that were narrowing the spine and pressing on nerves. The physical therapy program lasted 6 weeks. But people in the physical therapy group were allowed to get surgery instead. More than half of them did so. People in both groups had tests of movement 10 weeks, 6 months and a year after surgery or physical therapy. They also were asked about pain. After 2 years, they filled out a survey to assess overall results. In the long term, both groups had equal reductions in pain. Both groups also had similar changes in movement and quality of life. Not everyone showed improvement. The journal Annals of Internal Medicine published the study.

A couple of key findings:

  • Symptom relief with conservative physical therapy treatment seems to be faster than surgery
  • Long-term outcomes were similar for both surgical and physical therapy patients
  • 20% of the people that opted for surgery, had to have another surgical procedure done.

Based on the results of this recent study, physical therapy should be considered as the initial option to surgery. If results are not obtained with physical therapy treatment, the surgical procedure may be the next step.

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