Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Physical Therapy is just as good as surgery for a common back problem

Paul Kochoa, PT, DPT, OCS, CGFI


In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in April 2015, physical therapy can be just as good as surgery for spinal stenosis.  So you can avoid the knife and get rid of your back problem.

Spinal stenosis is a common issue with ageing spines.  It is a narrowing of the spaces between the bones of the back.  This narrowing can cause pressure and irritation to nerves resulting in tingling, numbness, or weakness in the back or in the legs.

With spinal decompression surgery, a common surgical procedure for spinal stenosis, there is a 15% complication rate, with half of those being life threatening.  So this study investigated whether or not physical therapy, which is a safer alternative to surgery, could reduce pain and the symptoms associated with spinal stenosis just as well as spinal decompression.

The study looked at 169 patients between 2000 and 2005.  About half went for surgery and the other half went for physical therapy with the option to go for surgery at a later date if they wanted.  About half of the physical therapy group chose to go get surgery during a 2 year period.

But overall, at two years after surgery, both groups had pretty similar outcomes and relief of symptoms.  For the most part, most doctors opt for physical therapy first before recommending the surgical route.  It’s safer, has less side effects, and is cheaper.  Furthermore, going for surgery also carries with it the post-surgical rehab process, which can take more time in itself.

Surgery for your spine should always be your last resort.  There are many options that you can investigate before you go under a knife.  Do your research, try physical therapy, and know your options.  Education is the best medicine.

If you would like more information, please call Professional Physical Therapy and Training at 973-270-7417.  Our offices are located within the YMCA locations in Madison and Summit, NJ.  You do not need to be a member of the YMCA to visit us.




Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /