Physical Therapy for Back Pain: A Complete Guide
Back pain is one of the most prevalent health issues in the US, and nearly 80% of Americans experience it at some point in their lives.
While in most cases, back pain is mild and goes away on its own, it can significantly impair the quality of life for some people as it can return or linger and even lead to disability. It also can lead to lost productivity, missed work days, and other issues.
Physical therapy for back pain is one of the most effective ways to help reduce and manage pain, restore mobility and improve the quality of life. It is recommended as the first-line approach to treat acute, recurring, and chronic pain as invasive procedures and various medications carry multiple risks.
Back Pain Symptoms
Back pain can be different in nature and location. The symptoms can range from mild muscle aches, burning, shooting, or stabbing sensations to pain radiating down the leg. Pain can get worse with activities such as walking, bending, lifting, standing, or twisting.
Generally, there are three types of back pain - acute, recurrent, and chronic.
Acute back pain is pain that patients experience for less than 4-6 weeks, and it can be located in joints, vertebrae, discs, spine, and soft tissues.
Recurring back pain is a pain that comes and goes, which means the patient goes without any symptoms for a while but then occasionally experiences pain attacks.
Lastly, chronic back pain is one of the most widespread problems, with even 80% of the population reporting it at some point in their lives. Chronic pain is enduring pain that affects the person's life and doesn't allow them to fully function and do their day-to-day activities. The pain should last more than 12 weeks to be classified as chronic.
While back pain can improve or go away on its own in time, you should see a doctor and talk about physical therapy for back pain if the pain persists for a few weeks, rest and self-care don't make a difference, you experience numbness or tingling in the legs, or the pain is accompanied by other symptoms like fever or bladder problems.
The Most Common Causes of Lower Back Pain
Mechanical back pain and lower back pain are most commonly related to some activity or lack of it as well as specific health conditions. A doctor or physical therapist can identify the cause after a checkup and some tests. After that, you will be prescribed physical therapy for back pain or physical therapy for lower back pain, as well as other treatments.
The most common causes of lower back pain include:
Strains, sprains, and torn ligaments are the most common causes of acute lower back pain. These usually happen when heavy lifting or overextending your reach, straining or overstretching a muscle.
Herniated or ruptured discs are usually caused by an accident or injury (often while doing sports) that can cause pain and numbness or tingle in the legs.
Arthritis leads to a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, often causing lower back pain.
Osteoporosis causes the thinning of the bones and leads to painful fractures of the spine's vertebrae.
Lack of exercise leads to weak muscles and may lead to back pain.
Excess weight puts extra stress on the back, causing discomfort and pain.
Sciatica is a sharp lower back pain that occurs due to compression on the sciatic nerve and goes down the leg.
Pregnancy is one of the common causes of lower back pain as the muscles and ligaments stretch as the baby grows, adding extra weight and burden to the back. It can be managed with back physical therapy.
Rarer Conditions and Causes of Back Pain
Besides the common causes of back pain, some more serious conditions may require medical attention to treat the underlying issues. It's essential to see a doctor even if you don't expect any of the conditions to rule them out or address them immediately before they do even more damage.
The rarer conditions that cause back pain include:
Physical Therapist Diagnosis of Back Pain
Doctors and physical therapists use various tools and methods to diagnose back pain and create the best physical therapy for the spine or physical therapy for lower back pain plans.
The physical therapist for back pain will do a thorough physical exam during which they will examine your posture and spine, test your muscle strength and reflexes and observe how movement affects your pain.
Physical therapists will also look into your medical history, family history, and recent activity to determine the source of the pain. You can expect them to ask you to describe and rate the pain, remember when was the first time the pain occurred, what's the exact location and what makes the pain worse or get better.
If the physical therapist discovers that the pain is or may be related to serious illness, they will refer you to a doctor for further examination and testing, which may include X-rays, MRI, CAT, and blood testing.
Physical Therapy for Lower Back Pain
Physical therapy for back pain and lower back pain is one of the most effective ways to approach the treatment. It can help relieve pain and restore or improve mobility.
Besides being effective, physical therapy can help avoid expensive surgery and medications that carry their risks and side effects.
After a thorough examination, your physical therapist will develop a personalized treatment plan to address your particular needs and facilitate your recovery. The treatment will be selected based on your specific symptoms and condition.
Physical therapy can make an overall positive impact on your life by not only decreasing pain or increasing function but also allowing you to get back to regular activities and enjoy life to its fullest.
What Treatments Back Physical Therapy Can Include?
Physical therapy is recommended as the first line of back pain treatment as it delivers excellent results and doesn't pose the risks that surgery or medications may have.
The physical therapy for lower back pain modalities include:
Hot and cold therapy for acute pain.
Manual spinal manipulation to increase mobility and reduce pain
TENS (transcutaneous electrical stimulation) for muscle and nerve recovery.
Exercises to strengthen the abdominal, pelvic floor, gluteal and quadriceps muscles to reduce stress on the back, support the back, reduce pain and improve movement.
Stretching exercises to improve range of motion and mobility.
Education to teach patients proper lifting, bending, and sitting to reduce strain and possible future injuries, as well as education to do exercises at home to speed up recovery.
Simple Exercises That Will Relieve Lower Back Pain
Your physical therapist will not only include exercises to do during your appointments but also perform them at home if they deem them safe. It is necessary to stay active to maintain the range of motion, prevent muscles from shrinking or losing function and stretch to relieve pain and tension.
Bridge. Lie on your back with your feet on the floor and knees bent. Keep your back straight and raise your hips to make a straight line with the knees and shoulders. Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat 8-12 times.
Bird dog. Get on your hands and knees with the back straight and stomach muscles engaged. Lift your leg, extend it behind you and hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat on the other side and do 10-12 repetitions on each side.
Crunch. A strong core is essential to protect the back muscles. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Cross your arms around your chest, engage abdominal muscles, raise the shoulders of the floor and hold the crunch for a couple of seconds. Repeat 10-12 times.
Knee to chest. Lie down and put your feet on the floor. Bring your left knee to your chest, hold for 15-30 seconds, lower down and repeat with the other leg. Do 4-5 repetitions with each side.
FAQs About Back Physical Therapy
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about back physical therapy.
Does It Matter Where My Back Pain Is Located?
The back pain location will determine the diagnosis, treatment plan, and the modalities used to treat it. Physical therapy can address and treat most pain in spite of its location.
Can Physical Therapy Make My Back Pain Worse?
Professional physical therapy will not make back pain worse. Avoiding physical therapy can worsen the condition and prolong pain and discomfort, though.
How Long Does Physical Therapy Take for Lower Back Pain?
Usually, physical therapy for the lower back takes around 4 weeks but can be extended if needed.
How Many Times a Week Should I Do Physical Therapy for Back Pain?
The standard is 2-3 times per week.
Lower back pain is a widespread health issue millions of Americans experience. It causes discomfort, pain, and reduced range of motion, leading to lower quality of life.
This kind of pain can be caused by injury, trauma, such conditions as muscle or ligament strains and herniated discs, as well as rarer conditions such as tumors or scoliosis.
Physical therapy for the lower back is one of the best ways to treat lower back pain and help patients return to living their lives to the fullest.
Find the closest Miracle Rehab Clinic to your location here and check how our services can help you. Contact us and we will answer all your questions.