When it comes to treating lumbar spinal stenosis in the lower back area, physical therapy can be as effective as surgery, a University of Pittsburgh study has found.
And it might be the best option to try first. That was Dale Urban’s thinking at age 78.
The Mt. Lebanon man said pain progressively worsens whenever he walks 50 to 100 yards or does dishes.
“Toward the bottom end of the spinal area is where I feel increasing pain that goes from zero to 100,” he said. “I feel the intensity rising. I sit down and the pain goes away.”
His physical therapy includes riding a stationary bicycle, physical manipulation of his lower spine and assigned exercises he does at home.
“The first experience is, you get relief from the treatment, but it’s temporary relief right now,” Mr. Urban said, after four of 12 sessions. “I’m hoping for long-term relief after I undergo all the treatments and modulations.”
The University of Pittsburgh study, published online Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found nearly equal success between physical therapy and decompression surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis, a degenerative condition that commonly occurs as people age.
Narrowing of the spinal canal in the lumbar region from age, arthritis or many other factors can compress the spinal cord or the nerve roots exiting the spine to form large nerves. Resulting compression of these nerves can cause pain, numbness and weakness in the lower back, buttocks, thighs and legs. Decompression surgery is now the fastest-growing intervention in the older population.
“Although proportions of successes were similar” between those who had surgery versus physical therapy, “there also were similar proportions of patients [in each group] who did not achieve a clinically meaningful level of improvement,” the study said.
Further study would be necessary to determine why people respond differently to treatments.
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Credit to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette