Widely recognized as a major cause of adult disability in the United States, low back pain occurs due to muscle imbalance, poor posture, heavy/strenuous work, sudden falls and injuries and accidents. It can also occur due to medical conditions such as arthritis, sciatica, spinal stenosis and fibromyalgia.
A new study suggests that customized physical therapy could provide more relief for lower back pain than general advice on the best ways to remain active. The study was conducted by researchers at La Trobe University in Bundoora, Australia and the findings were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The researchers noted that low back disorders are one of the most common afflictions for which people see a physician and that most people with severe problems experience consistent and severe symptoms for at least a year.
The study involved about 300 patients with lower back pain. These patients had experienced pain for six weeks to six months and had one of five specific types of back pain, namely, disc herniation, reducible disc pain, non-reducible disc pain, joint pain or multifactorial chronic pain.
The participants were given two advice sessions, one explaining the source of their discomfort and the other, providing instructions on proper lifting techniques. Approximately half of the patients also received ten treatment sessions of personalized physical therapy over a period of ten weeks.
The customized physical therapy sessions group was assigned specific exercise techniques based on their type of injury and individual barriers to recovery. For instance, patients with disc pain were given posture and lifting exercise sessions whereas those with disc herniation worked on motor control targeting specific muscle groups.
The researchers found that:
- patients who received personalized physical therapy experienced significant reductions in activity limitations at 10, 26 and 52 weeks than the advice sessions group
- patients in the customized therapy group had less back pain at 5, 10 and 26 weeks
- patients in both advice and the physical therapy groups improved over time, but those who received the customized exercise sessions generally did better
The findings of the study suggest that even though advice sessions may be effective, individualized physical therapy sessions help in more rapid pain reduction and in the long- term, provide superior improvements in function/disability.