Physical Therapy May Offer More Back Pain Benefit If Pursued Early

Most people will experience back pain at some point in their lives. For the lucky few the pain will only be intermittent muscle pain felt in response to overexertion. For others, however, the issue has more to do with long-term damage or wear and tear that makes their discomfort a constant and unwelcome companion. Whatever the cause, if your pain is bad enough that taking over the counter medications and resting for a week or two doesn’t alleviate it, you may need to seek help from a back pain specialist.

At our spine specialty practice, we offer a wide range of options for back and neck pain, ranging from conservative approaches to surgical techniques. One of the most popular and effective is physical therapy. Though it is recommended by both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Physicians, there is still a great deal that needs to be understood about the treatment and how best to deploy it. One of the questions that is most frequently asked is whether physical therapy is more helpful when it is begun immediately after the onset of pain or better when more time has passed. Researchers from the University of Utah Health recently conducted a study to try to answer this question.

One of the researchers behind the study was Julie Fritz, a physical therapist and an associate dean at Utah’s College of Health. Speaking of physical therapy, she says, “As is true for everything with back pain, it’s not the magic bullet for everybody. But it seems that physical therapy is something that can be offered to patients to help them regain their activity and recover more quickly.” While that is true, most patients don’t get referred to a physical therapist until they’ve already been suffering for weeks. The study set out to determine which is best.

Though the research shows that the treatment approach can alleviate stiffness and reduce back pain, previous studies have shown that the improvements offered by physical therapy are only modest, delivering only a few point boost on the Oswestry Disability Index score that reflects degrees of functional disability, short of what is considered “clinically significant.”  Still, it is nearly universally accepted that spine pain patients should be treated with physical therapy before moving forward with surgery.

While the optimal time to begin the treatment is still not clear enough to deliver a firm conclusion, the researchers did say that the improvement that was provided was enough to help patients feel more confident about returning to work, boosting their mood and diminishing the fear that their pain would continue for the long term. They also found that patients who had the best response to early treatment were the ones who started with the lowest levels of disability and no sign of damage or nerve root compression.

If your back pain has lasted for more than two weeks, it’s time to seek help from a spine specialist. Contact us today to set up an appointment and get started on the road to recovery.

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