Anyone who’s ever experienced back pain knows how deeply it can upset the rhythm and quality of everyday life. When back pain radiates to the leg — which is called sciatica — the misery is compounded.
Almost a third of people with back pain experience sciatica, which can resolve on its own before too long. But not always. That’s where a trip to the doctor typically comes in, with discussions of relief options that, in severe cases, can even involve surgery.
Julie Fritz, a physical therapist and researcher, set out to discover whether doctors’ typical advice for people with back pain — to remain active and give their symptoms time to subside before considering treatment like physical therapy — was needlessly prolonging their pain. To find out, she and her research colleagues studied whether a group of people with sciatica who received four weeks of physical therapy early on would experience less pain and disability than those who followed the usual wait-and-see approach.
The results were significant — demonstrating that physical therapy can and should be offered to patients with sciatica to help them regain their activity and recover more quickly. The findings recently were spotlighted in the prestigious journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
In this episode of Move Forward Radio, Julie joins us to share the study’s details, discuss its implications, and to emphasize the importance of people with sciatica being strong advocates for themselves until these findings gradually make their way into standard patient care.
Here’s our conversation with Julie.
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Julie Fritz, PT, PhD, is a distinguished professor in the Department of Physical Therapy & Athletic Training and associate dean for research in the College of Health at the University of Utah. She is a physical therapist whose career has focused on conducting research related to the best treatment strategies for individuals with back pain and other orthopedic conditions. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, the Foundation for Physical Therapy Research, and several other agencies.