A new review article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons should help convince many patients with low back pain to consider physical therapy as a first line of treatment for their condition, according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), Alexandria, Va. The review, published in February 2009, recommends that in most cases of symptomatic lumbar degenerative disc disease, a common cause of low back pain (LBP), the most effective treatment is physical therapy combined with anti-inflammatory medications. Some 75% to 85% of adults will be affected by low back pain during their lifetimes.1
The review details treatment methods for symptomatic lumbar degenerative disc disease, including physical therapy with the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and concludes that, in most patients with low back pain, symptoms resolve without surgical intervention. The review also concludes that physical therapy and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are the cornerstones of nonsurgical treatment.
Physical therapist intervention includes strengthening of core muscle groups, including the abdominal wall and lumbar musculature, which can have positive effects in patients with this condition. Exercise and manual therapy including spinal manipulation, have been shown to benefit many patients.2, 3 In addition, patient education to remain active and use appropriate body mechanics is beneficial.
In previous systematic reviews of the literature, it was found that exercise has been shown to improve function and decrease pain in adult patients with chronic LBP and that physical therapy was beneficial for the treatment of acute LBP.2, 3 In another systematic review, NSAIDs were found to provide LBP patients with short-term symptomatic relief.4
PTs can help patients develop a safe and effective exercise program that is tailored to an individual’s specific needs and goals. "Surgery should be the last option, but too often patients think of surgery as a cure all and are eager to embark on it," says Luke Madigan, MD, an attending physician at Knoxville Orthopaedic Clinic, Knoxville, Tenn, and the lead author of the literature review.
1Andersson GB: Epidemiological features of chronic low back pain. Lancet 1999; 354:581-585.
2Hayden JA, van Tulder MW, Malmivaara A, Koes BW: Exercise therapy for the treatment of non-specific low back pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005;(3):CD000335.
3Assendelft WJ, Morton SC, Yu EI, Suttorp MJ, Shekelle PG: Spinal manipulative therapy for low back pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(1):CD000447.
4vanTulder MW, Scholten RJ, Koes BW, Deyo RA: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for low back pain: a systematic review within the framework of the Cochrane collaboration back review group Cochrane review. Spine 2000:25:2501-2513.
5Childs JD, Fritz JM, Flynn TW, Irrgang JJ, Johnson KK, Maikowski GR, Delitto A: A clinical prediction rule to identify patients with low back pain most likely to benefit from spinal manipulation: a validation study. Ann Intern Med. 2004; 141(12):920-928.
6Chou R, Huffman LH: Nonpharmacologic therapies for acute and chronic low back pain: a review of the evidence for an American Pain Society/American College of Physicians clinical practice guideline.; American Pain Society; American College of Physicians; Ann Intern Med. 2007; 147(7):492-504.