Harvard Men's Health Watch

Physical therapy as good as surgery for common spine-related back pain

New study findings provide better guidance to men about treatment options for spinal stenosis.

Spinal stenosis, a progressive narrowing of the space around the lower (lumbar) spinal nerves, is a common cause of back pain and disability in men over age 65. When anti-inflammatory medications and injections fail, stenosis sufferers start looking for other solutions. A surgical procedure called decompression can improve things temporarily, but like any back surgery, it comes with risks.

A recent clinical trial in Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that men who first try intensive physical therapy can obtain results just as good in the short term as those from immediate surgery. "If it doesn't work, you probably haven't lost any ground by doing surgery later," says Dr. Jeffrey N. Katz, professor of medicine and orthopedic surgery at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

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