Phone Counseling Relieves Pain in Back Surgery Patients

Between relieving pain and speeding up recovery time after spinal surgery, a new study found various benefits associated with phone counseling.

Between relieving pain and speeding up recovery time after spinal surgery, a new study found various benefits associated with phone counseling.

Lead Author Richard Skolasky, ScD, and colleagues at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine investigated 122 spinal stenosis patients, ages 46 to 72, who had surgery between 2009 and 2012. The Johns Hopkins Hospital patients were prescribed either home exercise programs or physical therapy and half of them also received phone counseling.

“Modern orthopedic science has made great strides in surgical techniques to correct spinal deformities and achieved significant progress in developing physical therapies that boost the benefits of surgery, but we haven’t been all that good at motivating and engaging patients to partake in such post-surgical recovery programs,” coauthor Stephen Wegener, PhD, said in a news release.

The first of the 3 conversations, the most detailed out of the bunch, took place a few weeks before surgery. The other 2 “booster” sessions happened at the 6 week and 3 month mark following the procedure. The trained spinal surgery counselor discussed the importance of the exercises and made patients aware of their own postoperative care views.

Not only did those who had the phone conversations participate in their exercises and physical therapy more, but they also experienced less pain and disability following surgery.

“Phone counseling appears to be an easy, low-cost strategy that yields meaningful results by improving patient engagement in physical therapy and at-home exercise programs that are so vital for their recovery,” Skolasky said.

The study, published in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, found that 6 months after surgery 74% of patients in the phone therapy group had greater physical functioning and self-reported less pain. When compared with only 41% of patients in the non-phone therapy group, the conversations proved to make a difference.

The statement noted that this postoperative method for increased function and pain management will especially be important since more than 60 million Americans are expected to undergo spinal surgery by year 2025.

“Approaches like this one will play an important role in improving patient outcomes and reducing health care spending in an era when hospitals are increasingly being judged on the quality rather than quantity of care they provide,” Skolasky said.