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Can Physical Therapy Help to Avoid Surgery?

While surgery is sometimes the only way to treat a condition, physical therapy can help to avoid or delay surgery. Physical therapy, for some conditions, can eliminate pain, help you heal from an injury, making it possible to avoid surgery. If surgery is the only option, physical therapy can help make you stronger and put you in a better condition to withstand surgery, and make recover that much smoother.


With any invasive procedure, there are risks. While the risks vary depending on the type of surgery, there are a few general risks to be aware of:

  • Risk of infection

  • Bleeding problems

  • Blood Clots

  • Complications due to anesthesia

  • Aspiration

  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure


Physical therapy has long been prescribed prior to surgery as a conservative treatment. Recent studies show that physical therapy can be as effective as surgery.

  • Studies have shown that physical therapy can be as effective as surgery in providing pain relief for some lower back conditions, such as spinal stenosis.

  • The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that found physical therapy to be as effective as surgery for treating meniscal tears and knee osteoarthritis.

  • A study conducted at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital found that patients with degenerative disk disease responded as well to physical therapy as to surgery.

  • Physical Therapy has been found to successfully treat patients suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome

As more studies are completed, many doctors believe physical therapy may provide a non-invasive method of treatment for many patients, allowing them to avoid surgery.


The human body is built to heal itself of certain conditions with proper treatment and diet. Surgery should be the last option unless it is an emergency situation.

Doctors are recognizing that physical therapy treatment plans are effectively helping their patients. Part of this is because treatment plans can be custom-designed for the patient’s individual goals, needs, and challenges.

As researchers discover the positive impact of physical therapy on patients’ conditions, instead of undergoing surgery, more doctors are recommending physical therapy, first, as a non-invasive, more gentle way of healing the body.

Physical therapist with back pain patient

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