Health Team

For Back Pain, Exercise May Be Better Than Surgery

Posted December 3, 2007 5:49 p.m. EST
Updated December 3, 2007 9:20 p.m. EST

— 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.