Health Team

For Back Pain, Exercise May Be Better Than Surgery

Posted December 3, 2007

— About 80 percent of Americans suffer from significant back pain at some point in their lives. Pain killers and surgery can stop the pain, but sometimes there are better options.

“I bent over at the waist and the back went out,” patient Chris Roberts said.

“I got rear-ended, and a couple of days later I went to get ice out of the refrigerator and it felt like somebody stabbed me in the back,” patient Mario Lagasi said.

To stop the pain, Roberts and Lagasi chose exercise over drugs or surgery.

Low-back pain is a leading cause of disability in this country. But by using special exercises to strengthen core muscles and improve flexibility of the spine, most patients with low-back pain will never need an operation.

Regular stretching is important; some doctors even prescribe yoga.  Studies show acupuncture can provide relief, too.

“A lot of patients have stiffness in the back, and the stretching helps to relieve that,” Dr. Kalman Blumberg said.

Exercises like the swiss ball bridge, the wall slide and the quadraped help build the tiny, stabilizing muscles of the spine.

“We want to look at the whole body and make sure that we address the cause of the back pain and not just the symptom,” said Tony Milian with Memorial Hospital West in Broward County, Fla.

It could be the way the person walks, sits or even sleeps that creates back pain.

“Probably 95 percent of those patients who see us get better without an operation,” Blumberg said.

Roberts and Lagasi are among them.

"It's perfect. My back is completely better,” Roberts said.

Research in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed surgery for lower-back pain helps patients get better faster, but the long-term results are no different than using pain medication along with exercise.


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  • Josey Dec 5, 2007

    I have 3 vertebra's in my low back with severe degeneration and bulging discs. The pain is so severe at times I feel like it is making me loose my mind. Can't take meds due to allergic reactions. It makes me feel hopeless. Surgery is not an option because it is too bad. I was told do NOT go to a chiropracter. The last thing I need is for someone to be pressing and twisting my body. I grew up having regular adjustments all my life since childhood. I sometimes wonder if the adjustments actually are the cause of my pain now later in life. All that cracking and such. I remember pleading with my mother to tell the Dr. not to crack/twist my neck during the adjustment. I was afraid as a child he would break it. I also suffer severe degeneration in my neck which causes great pain. Still wonder if it was all those scary adjustments! Will never see one again.

  • udoowutchyalike Dec 5, 2007

    I have a friend who had tremendous back pain, couldn't even drive a car and he went to see a doctor in Cary who had a decompression chamber and after 3 days of treatment a week for a month he says he is a new person, feels amazing, can play golf and tennis again. The only problem was his insurance did not pay that much. Now some chiropractors in the area had purchased one of these chambers and use it as a treatment and the insurance picks it up. For those of you in a lot of pain, you might want to consider this or ask your doctor. I know it changed the life of my friend.

  • Skeeners Dec 4, 2007

    I had a car accident 10 years ago and was told I could either learn to live with the pain or have surgery. I decided to live with the pain, but when it got worse, I went to the Chiropractor. I don't know what they did, but I am in so much more pain now than ever before. I never had to take the pain medication that often, but since I went, I've been taking it 2 to 3 times more. I will NEVER go to another chiropractor!

  • rnsjr Dec 4, 2007

    I have had lower back surgery, my doctor advised me to always exercise. It has never bothered me. Surgery was in 1989.

  • CestLaVie Dec 4, 2007

    I go to a chiropractor for my lower back pain, which is an old injury from 20 years ago. Their periodic manipulations keep me moving, walking and working. But, I also have to do exercises too, and I've found that when I do the exercises religiously, the time between office visits is longer. That means less money spent - for me and my ins. company.

    I rarely hear good news for those who have had back surgery. Some seem better; most aren't. I guess it depends on what area or problem was operated on and possibly, who did the surgery.

    Personally, I will do anything to avoid surgery.