Intensive Physical Therapy Improves Function after Lumbar Discectomy

Study Finds Back Care Education and Exercise to be More Beneficial than Education Alone
Intensive Physical Therapy Improves Function after Lumbar Discectomy

Patients who underwent a comprehensive physical therapy program of exercise and education following a single-level lumbar discectomy experienced significant improvements in physical function as compared to post-surgery patients who were just educated on back care, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California.

As detailed in the November issue of the Physical Therapy Journal (PTJ), this study randomly allocated 98 patients into either an education-only or an exercise and education group 4-6 weeks after having a lumbar discectomy, which typically involves the surgical removal of part or all of a herniated disc that is irritating a nerve root and causing related leg pain, or sciatica.

In this study, the education-only group participated in one informational session on back care. The exercise and education group not only participated in the same education session but followed up with 12 weeks of physical therapy that focused on extensor strengthening exercises, endurance training, and mat and upright therapeutic exercises.

Physical function was first measured 4-6 weeks after surgery and then followed up after the 12-week exercise program.

According to the study, patients who participated in the exercise and education program had less disability and showed greater improvements in various daily activities, including tests measuring their abilities to transition repeatedly from sitting to standing and to walk 50 feet and 5 miles at a time.

According to the study, these findings suggest that post-discectomy functional limitations may be related to specific types of care and indicate the benefits of patients participating in a physical therapy program focusing on strengthening the trunk and lower-extremity muscles after this surgery.

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