A new study looking at treatments for herniated disks found that nonoperative remedies, such as physical therapy and painkillers, are almost as effective as surgery in alleviating pain.
"In back surgery for this particular condition, there's actually a choice," said lead author Dr. James Weinstein of Dartmouth Medical School. "If you don't want the risk of surgery, you can do watchful waiting" and still get well.
Patients were followed for two years after being randomly assigned to surgery or noninvasive treatment, which included education, physical therapy or painkillers. Surgery involved removing part of the bulging disk in a standard operation often done on an outpatient basis.
Patients in both groups had much improved scores on measures of pain, physical function and disability during periodic evaluations; differences between the groups weren't statistically significant.
The study appears in the upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.