Study: Patients prefer relief from lower back pain over improved mobility

Patients with lower back pain, when given the choice between treatments to relieve the pain or to help them stand and walk, prefer pain relief, according to results of a recently published study.

“There has long been a debate in the medical community over striking the right balance between pain relief and physical function,” John Markman, MD, director of the Translational Pain Research Program in the University of Rochester Department of Neurosurgery and lead author of the study, stated in a press release. “While physicians have leaned toward the need to increase mobility, this study shows that patients have a clear preference for pain relief.”

Lumbar spinal stenosis, a form of lower back pain, occurs when the vertebrae, discs, joints and ligaments of the spinal column are degenerated, which causes the spinal canal to narrow and nerve roots to be compressed. Symptoms occur most often when a person is upright or walking and include pain, tingling and numbness in the lower back, buttocks and legs.

Markman and colleagues surveyed 269 patients with lumbar stenosis with chronic back pain who also had trouble standing and walking. The researchers asked patients to whether they prefer a treatment that offered pain relief or one that allowed them to walk further. The majority of study participants – 79% – chose pain reduction over improved mobility.

“Even the patients who could not stand long enough to pick up a letter from their mailbox or wash the dishes after dinner chose pain relief,” Markman said.

Markman said the study results should encourage the creators of back pain drugs to focus less on mobility if it compromises pain relief.

“This study convincingly demonstrates the need to prioritize pain relief because that is what patients want,” he said.


Markman M, et al. Neurology. 2015;doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000002000.

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