Physical Therapy vs. Surgery for Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis (LSS) is a medical condition in which the spinal canal narrows and compresses the spinal cord and nerves. This is usually due to the common occurrence of spinal degeneration that occurs with aging.

It is a common cause of lower back pain, numbness or localized weakness in aging adults. In some cases, decompression surgery may be performed alleviate pain, but it may not achieve any better outcome than non-invasive physical therapy. A new study, funded by the U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, appeared in the April 7 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine found that in terms of pain relief and function, there was no long-term difference between surgery and physical therapy, the researchers said. investigators focused on nearly 170 patients with lumbar spinal stenosis who sought care in western Pennsylvania. On average, participants were in their late 60s, and none had undergone prior surgery for the condition. All demonstrated similar mobility impairment, and on a pain scale of 1 to 10 all were rated 7 prior to treatment. About half the patients were randomly assigned to undergo decompression surgery between 2000 and 2007. None underwent fusion surgery. The other half was randomly assigned to physical therapy twice a week for six weeks. However, physical therapy patients could switch over to surgery, and more than half of them eventually did so.

Mobility assessments were conducted at the 10-week point, at six months and one year out. Two years following either surgery or physical therapy completion, patients filled out a survey designed to assess pain, disability and function, symptoms and expectations.

Everyone’s case is unique and back problems are complicated to diagnose and treat. Be sure and get several opinions about your options before making a decision about the best way to get relief.

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