Melody Teh


Wed, 8 Apr, 2015

Suffering from chronic back pain? Physiotherapy may work just as well as surgery, according to study

Suffering from chronic back pain? Physiotherapy may work just as well as surgery, according to study

Physiotherapy may work just as well as surgery for treating lower back pain, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Exercise rehabilitation reduced the pain associated with lumbar spinal stenosis as effectively as surgery. Lumbar spinal stenosis is the leading cause of back pain and surgery in people over 60.

Pain is caused by a compression of the nerves in the back, which is usually due to the narrowing of the spinal canal. It’s why the elderly usually suffer more back pain as the vertebrae, discs, muscles and ligaments in the spinal column are worn away with age.

As there are few treatment options available, US researchers studied if patients’ pain could be cured equally well by physiotherapy, which carries less risk of complications than surgery.

Between 2000 and 2005, they followed 169 patients, who were at least 50 year old. 87 patients had surgery and 82 were assigned physical therapy.

This physiotherapy group had twice-weekly rehabilitation sessions for six weeks. They were allowed to opt out and have the surgery at any point during the study, and over an average two years of follow-up 47 of them of them did.

However, the researchers discovered that no matter what group participants started in, all achieved similar reduction of pain and other symptoms after two years.

Dr Jeffrey Katz, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said: “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.”

He added that surgery is still an option in treating lumbar spinal stenosis, but there's no harm in trying physical therapy first.

Related links: 

Does an apple a day actually keep the doctor away?

6 things that can happen to your body when you don’t drink enough water

Herbal remedies that have stood the test of time 

Our Partners