HealthDay News — For patients with acute back pain with sciatica, those receiving early physical therapy (EPT) have improvements in the Oswestry Disability Index (OSW) score, starting after 4 weeks, according to a study published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Julie M. Fritz, PT, PhD, from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and colleagues conducted a randomized trial involving 220 adults aged 18 to 60 years with sciatica of less than 90 days in duration in 2 health care systems. Participants received imaging and medication before enrollment and were then randomly assigned to usual care (UC; 1 session of education) or EPT (1 education session then referral for 4 weeks of physical therapy, including exercise and manual therapy).

The researchers found that from baseline to 6 months, participants in the EPT group had greater improvement for the primary outcome of the OSW score (relative difference, −5.4 points). After 4 weeks, the OSW score and several secondary outcomes favored EPT. Between-group differences favored EPT for the OSW score (relative difference, −4.8 points) and back pain intensity (relative difference, −1.0 points) after 1 year. Compared with the UC group, the EPT group was more likely to self-report treatment success after 1 year (45.2% vs 27.6%; relative risk, 1.6).

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“The EPT group showed greater improvement in disability and back pain intensity across all follow-up times,” the authors write.

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