Surgery Is Not Your Only Option for Low Back Pain

By Tuesday November 8th 2016

While surgery used to be the primary course of treatment, research suggests that surgery is no longer the only viable option. In fact, recent studies suggest that physical therapy and exercise can be very effective in treating low back pain.

Some studies say up to 80% of people will experience low back pain at one point in their lives (American Chiropractic Association Study). Whether it’s from increasing your activity level after living a sedentary lifestyle, working a day-to-day seated desk job, experiencing an injury during physical activity, or even suffering from the stress of daily life, low back pain can be debilitating.

While surgery used to be the primary course of treatment, research suggests that surgery is no longer the only viable option. In fact, recent studies suggest that physical therapy and exercise can be very effective in treating low back pain. Simply beginning a regimen of exercise can have a tremendous impact on pain relief.

What is causing my back pain in the first place?

This may be one of the most difficult questions to answer in the realm of physical therapy. The back itself is a complicated structure involving multiple joints, ligaments, and muscles. Causes can stem anywhere from mechanical (bending over) to arthritis to other organ issues (kidney issues can refer to the low back).

MRI and CT scan results can be misleading, but why?

The aging process is something that everyone goes through and is ultimately affected by. Yet, how this aging process affects one will differ. It has been shown that exercising, eating healthy, and avoiding harmful habits (such as drinking and smoking) can help slow the aging process. What we can’t avoid though is our genetics. Our genetic makeup can affect our metabolism, cholesterol, and spur other heart and lung issues.

A popular thing that is overheard in our clinic is “I have a herniated disc, I can’t do anything.” The truth is that a herniated disc can be painful, but the aging process can also cause disc herniation to show up on imaging. The important thing to remember is that pain and disc herniation is not a cause and effect relationship. Below are some statistics that show how the prevalence of low back related issues increase with age.

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A recent analysis on previous research shows that surgery was no more effective in treating spinal stenosis than conservative treatment (Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Study). The research also suggests that spinal fusions are no longer the preferred method of treating disc involvement in the lumbar spine.

But if surgery isn’t the answer, what is? Physical therapy is a proven option in treating low back diagnoses such as spinal stenosis and disc herniation. This treatment can also provide an evaluation and assessment of your low back’s symptoms and properly prescribe an exercise regimen to get you moving again. The benefits of physical therapy in treating low back pain has seen a steady increase due to similar, and sometimes greater, results than a surgical option.

Not only can physical therapy help with your pain, but it can also help with keeping money in your wallet. According to a recent study supported by the APTA (American Physical Therapy Association, APTA Study),  “Initial referral for physical therapy cost $504 on average (for an average 3.8 visits), compared with an average of $1,306 for magnetic resonance imaging.”

It is important as consumers that we stay informed on current options for pain management. The next time you have some low back pain (or any pain for that matter), consider asking your physician or general health care provider about physical therapy. It could save you money, time, and possibly help you avoid an unnecessary procedure.


About Franco Calabrese

Franco Calabrese received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Spanish from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and completed his doctorate in Physical Therapy at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Prior to becoming a physical therapist, Franco spent four years in Finance as a futures trader. An avid sports fan and athlete from a young age, Franco has first-hand knowledge of how maintaining an active lifestyle can impact the body. He understands how a well-rounded, disciplined and hands-on approach can help in achieving a balanced and strong foundation in all areas from every day activities to competitive sports.

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