Can Physical Therapy Help Your Back Pain?

Surprising Results When a Scientific Study Compared Surgery with Physical Therapy (Exercise) for Back Pain Treatment

A study on patients suffering from lower back pain due to lumbar stenosis (a narrowing of the space inside the lowest part of the spinal canal) was conducted on 169 Pittsburgh-area men and women with lower back pain due to lumbar spinal stenosis. All agreed to have surgery. Half would have surgery immediately, while the other half would wait. While waiting, the second half of the study group participated in a specifically designed physical therapy program, rather than going through with the scheduled surgery.

Both groups showed the same benefits throughout the recovery period, from 10 weeks after surgery to two years later. Both groups had no difference in pain levels and physical function.

Meanwhile, the surgery group had twenty-two participants (25%) who experienced surgery-related complications like repeat surgery or a surgery-related infection, while eight of those in the physical therapy group (10%) reported worsening symptoms as a complication.

This study shows that physical therapy, or exercise, is as effective as surgery for many patients with certain low back pain.

Standard Care: Conservative Treatment for Back Pain, Before Considering Surgery

Usually, doctors will try to initially treat back pain with conservative measures. Some of these treatment methods include:

·        Pain relievers

·        Anti-inflammatory medications

·        Injections of corticosteroids

If these methods fail, they will most often recommend surgery to their patients.

Many Doctors Now Consider Physical Therapy/Exercise as Part of Treatment Plan to Treat Back Pain Patients

Many doctors now consider a well-designed physical therapy program as an important step to treat patients with back pain, before making any final step toward surgery.

This, of course, depends on the cause of the back pain, and the overall condition of the patient’s health. For instance, immediate surgery may be necessary if there is so much pressure on the nerves that:

·        It becomes difficult to control bladder or bowel function

·        Muscles around the pelvis or upper legs become weak

·        Pain can’t be controlled with strong medicine

In these cases, surgery may be the only option for relief.


What to Expect If Your Doctor Recommends Physical Therapy or Exercise

If your physician considers you to be a good candidate for physical therapy or exercise to relieve your back pain, there are a few things you should know.

First, congratulations. You may be able to avoid surgery or medication to treat your back pain. Surgery may seem like the definitive fix, but it’s never a guaranteed success, and there is always a possibility for complications with any surgical procedure.

Second, any exercise or physical therapy program will not only be difficult at first, it is likely to cause pain. This is because your back pain may have caused you to limit certain movement. When your therapy has you begin to move all those muscles and ligaments again, they will be stiff and sore. It is the old story of “no pain, no gain”.

Also, if patients do not perform all recommended exercises or do not devote enough time to their program, physical therapy or exercise is not likely to alleviate pain.

However, if you commit to your physical therapy or exercise program, you should eventually find relief, just like the participants in the scientific study. Also, you will find continued exercise beyond the assigned therapy time may, in fact, further strengthen you back and help you to maintain better posture, which should help to prevent recurring pain.

Lastly, never engage in any physical therapy or exercise program when you are experiencing back pain without your doctor’s approval. This is very important, as your doctor will be able to determine exactly what you should, and should not do with your back.

If you are experiencing back pain, request an appointment at the Tucson Orthopaedic Institute at the location nearest you, to be examined by one of their highly qualified, board-certified orthopedic surgeons. They will use the latest diagnostic tools and years of experience to determine the cause of your pain, and suggest the best treatment options available. You deserve to live a pain free life.