Physical Therapy as Effective as Surgery for Degenerative Disc Disease

ddd and pt

It is very important that patients understand that degenerative changes are a normal process of aging, and are NOT always the cause of their pain (a.k.a symptom generator).  This is important to know because even though imaging (x-ray or MRI) reveals some present ‘pathology’, their pain can abolish without correction or removal of this pathology.

Below is a research review from Move Forward PT, a great resource for clinicians and patients powered by the American Physical Therapy Association:

Before undergoing surgical spinal fusion, patients with degenerative disk disease should first try physical therapy.

A study conducted at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (“Operative and Nonoperative Treatment Approaches for Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease Have Similar Long-Term Clinical Outcomes Among Patients With Positive Discography” – September 15, 2013) found that “patients with back pain and concordant discography did not demonstrate a significant difference in outcome measures of pain, health status, satisfaction, or disability based on whether the patient elected for fusion or nonoperative treatment.”

The subjects who had good clinical outcomes from conservative rehabilitation were able to decrease pain and improve function without ‘regenerating’ their degenerative discs.  However, with interventions such as appropriate education on their condition and pain, mobility and stability training, and a graded exercise program they were able to return to their prior level of function.

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Posted in: All Posts, Low Back, Neck


  1. I have had neck problems for years and have been able to use physical therapy as the treatment for my pain. Education is a large part of physical therapy and knowing what to do to not aggravate the condition is important. Hopefully, I’ll be able to continue the exercises instead of surgery.

    Comment by Cheryl Smith on August 28, 2015 at 3:49 pm

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