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does physical therapy work better than surgery for back pain relief?

‍#backpain, #physicaltherapy

physical therapy for back pain

Back pain is a common complaint among adults, with about 80% of people experiencing it at some point in their lives. It can be caused by various factors, such as poor posture, physical strain, or underlying medical conditions. For those who experience chronic back pain, it can significantly impact their quality of life, making it difficult to perform daily activities, work, or even sleep. Many individuals turn to surgical intervention as a solution, but studies have shown that physical therapy may actually be a more effective treatment option.

Understanding Back Pain

Back pain can manifest in different parts of the back, such as the lower back, upper back, or neck. It can range from mild to severe and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as stiffness, numbness, or tingling. Depending on the cause of the back pain, treatment options may vary. In some cases, rest, ice, or pain medication can alleviate the symptoms. However, for chronic back pain, more targeted interventions may be necessary.

Physical Therapy vs. Surgery

Back surgery is often considered a last resort for those who have exhausted other treatment options. It involves invasive procedures that have potential risks and complications, such as infection, bleeding, or nerve damage. Additionally, recovery from back surgery can take weeks or months, during which the patient may experience pain, limited mobility, and dependence on medication.

On the other hand, physical therapy is a non-invasive, drug-free treatment option that aims to improve the function and mobility of the back. It involves exercises, stretches, and manual therapy techniques that target the specific muscles, joints, or tissues affected by back pain. Physical therapy can also include education on proper posture, body mechanics, and lifestyle changes that can prevent future episodes of back pain.

Studies Supporting Physical Therapy for Back Pain

Over the years, several studies have investigated the effectiveness of physical therapy compared to surgery for back pain. One such study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2015 compared the outcomes of physical therapy versus surgery for spinal stenosis, a condition that causes the narrowing of the spinal canal and can result in back pain, leg pain, or weakness. The study found that physical therapy was as effective as surgery in improving pain and function, with fewer risks and complications.

Another study published in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy in 2018 reviewed the evidence on the effects of physical therapy for low back pain. The study concluded that physical therapy interventions such as exercise, manual therapy, and education can improve pain, function, and quality of life in patients with low back pain.

The Benefits of Physical Therapy for Back Pain

Physical therapy offers several benefits for those who suffer from back pain, including:

Non-invasive treatment

Physical therapy does not involve any surgical incisions or anesthesia, making it a safer and less invasive option than surgery.

Pain relief

Physical therapy can help alleviate pain by targeting the specific muscles, joints, or tissues affected by back pain. Additionally, physical therapy can improve the circulation and oxygenation of the affected area, which can reduce inflammation and promote healing.

Improved function

Physical therapy can improve the function and mobility of the back, allowing the patient to perform daily activities with less pain or discomfort. This can improve their quality of life and overall well-being.

Prevention of future episodes

Physical therapy can also include education on proper posture, body mechanics, and lifestyle changes that can prevent future episodes of back pain. This empowers the patient to take control of their health and prevent further damage to their back.

The Risks of Back Surgery

While back surgery can be effective in some cases, it also comes with potential risks and complications. These include:


Surgical incisions can introduce bacteria into the body, leading to infection. This can cause fever, pain, swelling, and other symptoms, and may require additional treatment.


Back surgery involves cutting into the muscles and tissues of the back, which can result in bleeding. In severe cases, this may require blood transfusions or other interventions.

Nerve damage

Back surgery can damage the nerves that run along the spine, leading to numbness, weakness, or other neurological symptoms.

Failed surgery

In some cases, back surgery may not achieve the desired outcome, or may even worsen the symptoms. This can be frustrating and discouraging for the patient, who may require additional interventions or treatments.

Who is a Good Candidate for Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy can be beneficial for anyone who experiences back pain, regardless of the cause or severity. However, some individuals may be better suited for physical therapy than others. Those who are good candidates for physical therapy include:

Those with mild to moderate back pain

Physical therapy is most effective for those with mild to moderate back pain, as it can help alleviate the symptoms and prevent further damage to the back.

Those who want to avoid surgery

For those who are hesitant to undergo surgery or want to explore non-invasive treatment options, physical therapy can be an effective solution.

Those who have tried other treatments without success

If other treatments such as rest, medication, or chiropractic care have not alleviated the back pain, physical therapy may be a viable alternative.

Those who want to improve their overall health and well-being. Physical therapy can not only alleviate back pain, but also improve posture, mobility, and quality of life. It can be a valuable investment in one’s overall health and well-being.

What to Expect from Physical Therapy for Back Pain

Physical therapy for back pain typically involves an initial evaluation by a physical therapist, who will assess the patient’s medical history, symptoms, and goals. Based on this assessment, the physical therapist will develop a treatment plan that may include exercises, stretches, manual therapy, and education.

The frequency and duration of physical therapy sessions may vary depending on the severity and complexity of the back pain. During the sessions, the physical therapist will guide the patient through the exercises and stretches, and provide feedback and modifications as needed.

Cost of Physical Therapy

The cost will vary depending on your insurance. However, the average co-pay is between $35-75 dollars a visit and you will see a physical therapist 3 times a week for several months. Therefore the cost for 3 months of therapy, if you have insurance, would range from $420.00 - $900.00 a month.

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Choosing a Physical Therapist for Back Pain

Choosing the right physical therapist for back pain is crucial for achieving the best possible outcome. When selecting a physical therapist, consider the following:


Choose a physical therapist who has experience in treating back pain and has a good track record of successful outcomes.


Look for a physical therapist who listens to your concerns, explains the treatment plan, and provides clear instructions and feedback.


Choose a physical therapist who has flexible scheduling options and can accommodate your needs and preferences. If you would rather do physical therapy exercises in your own home, check out our DVDs and save yourself money on expensive co-pays.

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Back pain can be a challenging and frustrating condition to live with, but it doesn’t have to be. Physical therapy is a safe, effective, and non-invasive treatment option that can help alleviate back pain and improve overall health and well-being. By understanding the benefits of physical therapy, selecting the right physical therapist, and committing to the treatment plan, patients can reclaim their lives and enjoy a pain-free future.


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