People who suffer from back pain so that gives in the way in the way of their sex lives, surgery may be the best option, according to new research published in Spine.

Researchers analyzed data from a randomized trial of older patients who were suffering from with several degenerative spinal conditions. Each of those patients were either given surgery or other nonsurgical treatments. Out of the 1,235 patients they initially looked at, 71 percent said their sex lives were important to them, and 39 percent complained their condition was affecting their enjoyment of sex before treatment. When the researchers compared the two groups who cared about their sex lives three months after treatment, they found the surgery group was faring much better sexwise. Overall, fewer than 20 percent of patients who underwent a surgrical intervention still experienced pain that affected their sex lives, compared to 40 percent of patients treated nonsurgically. Patients reported that the improvements continued to last four years later.

"Sex life is a relevant consideration for the majority of patients with degenerative spondylolisthesis and spinal stenosis," the stud's authors wrote. "Operative treatment leads to improved sex life-related pain.”

Using surgery to treat chronic lower back pain has long been controversial. While some research has shown it can provide better outcomes than physical therapy and other nonsurgical options, other studies have shown it to be no better, instead carrying with it more side-effects and health risks. The Spine Patient Outcomes Research Tria l (SPORT), which the current researchers studied, was designed to help settle that question. Over the span of five years, they recruited 2,500 patients suffering from the three most common back conditions.  

But while the SPORT study found better overall improvements from surgery compared to nonsurgery, there’s been less research on whether back pain treatments can improve people’s sex lives, a gap the current authors wanted to begin remedying.

"The impetus behind our study was to initiate the process of understanding how back surgery affects patients' lives," said the study's senior author Dr. Shane Burch, a researcher from the University of California-San Francisco in a statement.

Because the SPORT study only briefly asked its volunteers about their sex lives, Burch and his team hope that future research further highlights and focuses the connection between back pain and sexual fulfillment. In the meantime, their findings should encourage back doctors to be more willing to talk about it.

"An important aspect for many patients includes sex life,” Burch said. “We have very limited data to discuss this topic, and we need to do a better job for our patients to inform them of what to expect after surgery."

Source: Horst P, Khanna K, Racine L, et al. Sex Life and Impact of Operative Intervention on Sex Life-related Pain in Degenerative Spinal Conditions: An Analysis of the SPORT Study. Spine. 2016.