Physiotherapy May Have Same Effects as Surgery for Chronic Back Pain
Chronic lower back pain can have such a severe impact of the lives of sufferers that many resort to surgery to improve their quality of life. However, a new study shows that surgery may be unnecessary because physiotherapy for back pain might just have the same effect.
The leading cause of back pain among the elderly is lumbar spinal stenosis. The condition causes shooting or twinging pains in the lower back, as well as tingling and numbness, as a result of the nerves in the back becoming compressed due to changes in the spine which happen with age.
Researchers asked 481 patients, all aged 50 or above, who had consented to surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis if they would be willing to join a study. Of the 169 patients who agreed to become participants, 87 had surgery and 82 were assigned to physical therapy. The physiotherapy group underwent a regimen of twice-weekly rehabilitation sessions for six weeks. While 57% of this group opted to abandon physiotherapy and have the surgery instead, the results showed that all participants, from both groups, achieved similar reduction of pain or other symptoms after two years.
Study author Dr Anthony Delitto, of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, highlights the clear advantage physiotherapy has over surgery: “Surgery is a riskier procedure, with about a 15% complication rate, and half of those are life-threatening. It isn’t a life-risking procedure to do physiotherapy.”
“The study demonstrates that both surgery and physical therapy are reasonable choices; the person who goes down either path ends up in the same place a year or two later,” says Dr Jeffret Katz, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.