The randomized clinical trial showed that patients with sciatica who were treated with four weeks of physical therapy encountered less disability in the year following their initial doctor’s visit compared to patients who followed the traditional wait-and-see approach.
Julie Fritz, P.T., Ph.D., who led the study, stated, “It appears that physical therapy is something that could be offered to patients to help them regain their physical activity and recover more quickly.”
All people encounter back pain at some point in their lives, and about 30 percent of these episodes include sciatica. Although the pain resolves on its own for many, for others, it may persist for years. While not everyone requires physical therapy, the author wondered whether some patients, especially those with sciatica, for whom outcomes tend to be worse, were missing a critical opportunity to control their symptoms and avoid a prolonged episode of pain.
To find out, researchers enrolled 220 patients with back pain and sciatica in a clinical trial. All participants were between 18 and 60 years old and had consulted doctors about back pain that had occurred within the previous 90 days. On average, they had been experiencing back pain for 35 days.
The participants were split into two groups. In one group, they received physical therapy and in other group received no therapy but were encouraged to remain active.
The study found that patients who had completed physical therapy immediately after their primary care visit had less disability compared to patients who followed the wait-and-see approach.