Physical Therapy May Help Speed Lower Back Pain Recovery, But Problem Often Resolves Over Time

Oct 22, 2015 12:00 AM

Author: Julie M. Fritz

Julie M. Fritz

It’s estimated that 70 percent of people will experience low back pain (LBP) at some point in their lives. People with LBP often visit their primary care doctor in search of a prescription to end their pain. Sometimes this involves physical therapy (PT). University of Utah researchers found that while PT may hasten recovery somewhat, for many the problem will resolve itself with time.

In a trial with 220 people with LBP, the researchers found that 108 patients who underwent physical therapy soon after the problem appeared received limited, short-term improvement in disability compared with 112 who received usual care—meaning no PT. When participants were evaluated at the end of three months, the early physical therapy group showed a slight improvement in the ability to carry out daily tasks and were somewhat more likely to be satisfied with their progress compared to the no-PT group. But a follow-up at 12 months showed no significant functionality difference between the two groups, nor was there a difference in pain intensity at four-week, three-month or one-year follow-ups with patients.

Overall, patients in each group improved rapidly and the modest difference in disability relief between those who received early physical therapy and those who didn’t was not considered clinically important. While the overall difference in ability to function between the two groups was not significant, PT did benefit some patients, the study found. The researchers concluded that PT may be helpful for patients who want or need a little assistance in recovering from LBP, but patients can be optimistic that they will improve with time even if they do not receive PT.  

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