Physical therapy may be good as surgery for back problems

A study from the University of Pittsburgh concludes that physical therapy may be as effective as surgery for treating lumbar spinal stenosis as surgery--a common cause of nerve damage and lower back pain in older adults.

The condition results from a compression of open spaces in the lower spinal column. It can lead to pinched nerves, tingling, and weakness in the lower back and extremities.

From 2000 to 2005, the researchers asked people who had agreed to surgery to join the study that would randomly place them into either physical therapy or surgery. Out of this, 169 participants agreed and, in the end, 87 had surgery and 82 did physical therapy.

In the beginning of the study, participants had to be at least 50 years old, able to walk a quarter of a mile without difficulty, and have no underlying medical conditions. The majority, however, were sedentary and typically obese. Participants in the surgery group were 67 years old on average, and participants in the physical therapy group were 70 years old on average.

The physical therapy sessions were twice a week for six weeks. Participants had the option to opt out for surgery at any point, which 57 percent eventually did after two years. Regardless of the group they were in, participants achieved similar pain and symptom reduction over two years.

Based on the findings, the researchers suggested that both options could bring similar results and recommended that people turn to physical therapy before resorting to surgery.

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