Low Back Pain: Can Physiotherapy Be as Effective as Surgery?

Almost everyone will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Some people experience back pain like a breeze, something that comes and goes within a day or two. But for some unlucky ones, the pain is excruciating enough to require surgery.

One type of lower back pain, called spinal stenosis, is sometimes treated with surgery. But physiotherapy is just as effective, and even has fewer complications in which some of them are life-threatening.

What the Study Says

A 2015 study from in the Annals of Internal Medicine confirmed the effectiveness of physical therapy. All 169 participants agreed to have surgery, where half would undergo surgery right away and half would participate in a physiotherapy program first.

Both group experienced benefits as early as 10 weeks after surgery or beginning physiotherapy. Their physical function improves while their pain decreases. There was no difference in pain and physical function between the surgery and physical therapy groups 2 years later.

Results showed that 25% from the surgery group experienced complications from surgery, while only 10% from the physical therapy group experienced worsening of symptoms as a complication.

Spinal Stenosis

Stenosis means narrowing. If you have lumbar spinal stenosis, the space inside the lowest part of your spinal canal has narrowed. This causes pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves stemming from your lower vertebrae.

Spinal stenosis is often a result of degeneration of the structures of the vertebrae. The degeneration causes narrowing of the spinal canal, which in turn, leaves a painful back.

For most physicians and their patients, spinal stenosis is a complicated diagnosis. It is usually difficult to determine the cause of the stenosis, making its treatment complex.

The compression of the spine causes pain not only in the back, but also in the legs and butt. Although it doesn’t cause paralysis, it affects your quality of life.

For spinal stenosis, surgery is usually a last resort because of the complexity of the condition and the delicate nature of the spine.

When is Surgery Needed?

If drugs failed to work, or if the condition doesn’t get better despite conservative treatments, that’s when surgery is recommended. While surgery initially works , the downside is that it doesn’t ensure success and the pain may return within a few years.

Laminectomy or surgical decompression is sometimes done to relieve the pain caused by lumbar spinal stenosis. The procedure involves supposedly removing structures that are pressing the nerves and contributing to the pain.

How Does Physiotherapy Help?

Using manual therapy techniques, a physiotherapist can help relieve stiffness and spasm in the lower back. Mobilisation techniques can also reduce pressure on the nerve roots and nerves of the lower back.

A smart physiotherapist will get you moving correctly – optimising your structural alignment, enhancing your movement patterns, and helping offload any irritated structures – to heal and perform at your best.

Are you one of those unlucky back pain sufferers? Now hold your horses before thinking about surgery. A physiotherapist may save you from that cold, sharp surgical knife. Talk to any of our Perth physiotherapists at 9444 8729!