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Physical therapy a good first step for treating spinal stenosis

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7/29/2015

When it comes to major, nagging health problems related to body function, many doctors still recommend surgery as a first course of action to correct the problem. And while in many cases this can be quite effective, a growing number of studies show it might also be overly invasive and potentially a step beyond what is necessary. For things like spinal stenosis, a growing number of doctors and other health care professionals are starting to recommend physical therapy as an affordable alternative option.

PT often falls under what doctors would call a "conservative" treatment for health issues like spinal stenosis, according to a report from the Arlington Heights Daily Herald. That also includes potentially less effective things that are more aimed at pain management than addressing the underlying problem: taking painkillers or anti-inflammatory medicines, and potentially even some types of injections that can help to reduce the painful feeling, but not necessarily address the problems causing it.

What's the difference?
The reason doctors are so quick to recommend surgery as a reasonable course of action here is that surgery does work, and it potentially works more quickly, even when factoring in the time needed to devote to rehab, the report said. But over a period of years, the difference in benefit people get from surgery versus physical therapy is negligible or even non-existent.

The issue in a lot of cases, though, is that people are more eager to go through with surgery simply because it's perceived as being more effective, the report said. And again, while it is quicker in addressing pain - certainly, it can take months of physical therapy to get a handle on such a major health issue - the benefits aren't appreciably better over the long term. Therefore, it might be wise to at least explore physical therapy as an option prior to making a hard and fast decision about surgery. At worst, many people who have started with physical therapy and decided it wasn't helping them improve quickly enough are not prevented from going through surgery later. The opposite, however, is obviously not true; once a person goes under the knife, that's their only recourse for a while.

Spinal pain can be very troubling in a person's daily life, but PT can probably do better than they expect to treat it.Spinal pain can be very troubling in a person's daily life, but PT can probably do better than they expect to treat it.

What can this teach us about the benefits of PT?
Plenty of medical studies have shown that, in many cases, physical therapy can be just as effective - if not more so - than surgery and other extreme procedures that are occasionally recommended by doctors. This in and of itself may be good news for people who suffer from potentially debilitating problems but are worried about going under the knife. What's more, many of these studies also find that the expense of even months of intensive, regular physical therapy will often be much more affordable than seeking out surgeries, and these two factors combined highlight just how beneficial such treatments can be. The next step for the PT industry, then, is often educating the public about the options available to them.



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