Rehab as effective as back surgery, study finds

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Rehabilitation to relieve chronic lower back pain is far less expensive than surgery and appears to work just as well if not better, according to a study published online by the British Medical Journal.

In fact, researchers said they found little difference in the results between back pain sufferers who underwent surgery versus those in rehabilitation.

"This is strong evidence that intensive rehabilitation is a good thing to do for people with chronic back pain who are thinking of having operations," said Jeremy Fairbank, an orthopedic surgeon at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in Oxford, England.

For the study researchers examined 349 back pain sufferers who either had spinal fusion surgery -- surgery in which one or more vertebrae of the spine are joined to stabilize a section of the spine -- or intensive rehabilitation involving exercises along with behavioral therapy. Thirty patients in the therapy group later had surgery.