Physical Therapy for Back Pain
Back pain can result from an injury or can be related to a medical condition. It can range from severe pain to a very mild ache. While there are many types of back pain, from arthritis to sprains to structural problems of the back and its surrounding area, there are generally two places where pain originates: the upper and lower back.
Evolution Physical Therapy is proud to offer a specialized team of therapists dedicated to treating conditions of the spine. This dynamic Spine Team is certified in a variety of specialties including Manual Therapy, Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy/The McKenzie Method, and Functional Dry Needling. Our trained physical therapists at Evolution Physical Therapy can treat a multitude of issues related to back pain, from chronic, long-term conditions to sprains and flare-ups. There are even some types of diseases that cause back pain that can be managed with PT (physical therapy), bringing relief to the upper back, lower back, and surrounding areas of discomfort.
Physical Therapy for Upper Back Pain
From poor posture to straining your back after lifting a heavy box, it’s quite common for injuries in the upper back region to occur. Medical conditions can also affect the upper back as well, including slipped and herniated discs or osteoarthritis. Upper back pain may appear at the base of the neck to the approximate middle area of your back, or about where the rib cage ends. Physical therapists can help you determine the location of your pain and when it began. They will perform an evaluation and can usually treat your upper back pain with the appropriate treatment plan.
Physical Therapy for Lower Back Pain
The lower back, also referred to as the lumbar spine, is the region that begins right below the lower rib cage until the top of the buttocks area. It has a natural curve which is called lordosis. A number of problems can plague the lower back ranging from very mild to serious or life-threatening. Conditions can include muscle strains, osteoarthritis, lumbar spinal stenosis, sciatica, tumors, or even kidney infections. Physical therapists are able to help diagnose the cause of lower back pain and help determine if there needs to be further testing or if a referral to a specialist is needed. Because there are so many common conditions of the lower back that are treatable with non-invasive and conservative regimens, physical therapy can be a great place to start for identifying lower back pain. While not every disease or condition can be treated by physical therapy, a PT or DPT will be able to help uncover if you have an underlying health condition or can start physical therapy as the appropriate measure.
What Causes Back Pain?
Back pain of all types has many different causes. Your back pain might strike suddenly, like after an accident or workout, or flare up due to conditions like arthritis or a pinched nerve. Even stress or a poor night’s sleep can lead to back pain. Given the numerous triggers for back pain in an individual’s daily routine, identifying the precise cause of your discomfort might not always be straightforward. Causes of back pain can include:
- Having poor posture
- Excessive sitting
- Lack of exercise
- Being overweight
- Any number of medical conditions
Medical Conditions that Cause Back Pain
Genetic conditions, acquired conditions, or injuries could be the underlying factors behind back pain in certain individuals. Frequently, the initial associations might involve herniated discs, scoliosis, or arthritis. While these conditions can, and on occasion do contribute to back pain, other internal developments such as kidney stones, gallbladder disease, spinal tumors, endometriosis, or bladder infections can trigger referred pain that radiates across the back. This underscores the significance of seeking a medical evaluation for persistent, sudden, or escalating back pain. Ultimately, there are a multitude of factors that can cause back pain, thus getting a proper diagnosis is the first step before undertaking any medical treatment, including physical therapy.
Types of Back Pain
As stated before, there are many types of back pain that can affect either the upper or lower back. But back pain can be further broken down by frequency and severity of pain, and this may be indicative of the underlying cause of your back pain. How often does your back hurt and how would you describe your pain level? This can help determine if your pain is chronic or acute, with acute meaning sudden onset and chronic being more of a regular occurrence.
Acute Back Pain
Acute (short-term) back pain lasts a few days to a few weeks. It usually resolves on its own within a few days with self-care and there is no long-term loss of function. Beyond six weeks, back pain is usually considered chronic. Acute pain can range from dull to severe, increase or change over time, and if left untreated, depending on the cause, may become chronic. While not all acute back pain will have the same symptoms, your new back pain could start off sudden, sharp, stabbing, burning, or tingling. In other cases, you may just have mild aches, weakness, or spasming. Because of the range of possibilities that can incite back pain, any pain that does not go away, or gets worse over a short period of time should be addressed by a doctor.
Chronic Back Pain
Chronic back pain is a persistent type of pain that continues for 12 weeks or longer, even after an initial injury or underlying cause of back pain has been treated. Pain that does not go away may have underlying health issues such as disc herniation, nerve compression, bone or joint disorders, cancer, arthritis, or fibromyalgia, just to name a few. Just like with acute back pain, depending on the cause, physical therapy may be considered as a primary treatment. Because some pain may not go away on its own, such as recurrent strain injury, physical therapy treatment can be very effective at relieving some chronic problems that may otherwise not be alleviated with time, over-the-counter medicine, or rest.
How is Back Pain Diagnosed?
Not all cases of back pain require diagnostic imaging, and the decision to pursue imaging should be based on the clinical evaluation and the presence of red flags or concerning symptoms. Physical therapists are well-equipped to assess and manage many cases of back pain and can often provide effective treatment without the need for imaging studies. However, in cases of severe or persistent pain or when underlying structural issues are suspected, imaging may be warranted to guide treatment decisions. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.
How Does Physical Therapy Treat Back Pain?
Physical therapy is a non-invasive, sometimes first-line approach to treating pain, injury, or illness. This is just as true for all types of back pain as it is for other conditions. With physical therapy, our trained therapists may utilize different techniques to relieve pain and help treat your condition directly. These techniques may include:
- Manual Therapy
- The McKenzie Method
- The Maitland-Australian Approach
Manual Therapy for Back Pain Relief
Manual therapy is a clinical and highly specific, hands-on approach to physical therapy. Manual therapy includes utilizing both manipulation and mobilization of the soft tissues and joint structures. The goals of manual therapy include:
- Increasing range of motion
- Regulating pain
- Reducing inflammation
- Facilitating movement
- Improving functionality
The McKenzie Method for Back Pain
The McKenzie Method, otherwise known as Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT), is a treatment method for helping those with back pain, neck pain, or certain joint problems. The McKenzie Method consists of specific exercises and movements that help a physical therapist with the evaluation and treatment plan of a patient. Upon learning more about the patient by working through the movements, the therapist can build a customized approach and prescribe specific exercises for a patient to do on their own.
The McKenzie Method focuses on the mindset of an individual controlling his or her own pain, not allowing pain to control them. This methodology is backed by years of research, evidence, and clinical practice. In addition, the McKenzie method is:
- Known to show results in as few as three visits
- Self-directed and managed
- Empowers a patient with knowledge and preventative skills
The Maitland-Australian Approach
Considered the cornerstone of Orthopedic Manual Therapy for the treatment of both spinal and peripheral conditions, the Maitland Approach is a type of manual therapy that can effectively be used for relief from back pain. The techniques used in this specific approach are recognized worldwide as a safe and highly effective way to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and restore or maximize function.
Back Pain Recovery and Management
With the help of physical therapy, you may see a significant decrease in pain, improvement in movement and function, or even complete recovery from your back-related condition. For chronic conditions or certain types of illness, physical therapy and therapist-recommended exercises may be the most effective way to manage your back pain, as well as prevent flare-ups and the development of other conditions, such as osteoarthritis.
When to see a Physical Therapist for Back Pain Relief
If you are having back pain or your provider has referred you to physical therapy for back-related rehabilitation, your next step will be setting up an appointment with a licensed physical therapist. At Evolution Physical Therapy, we have locations in California, Colorado, Connecticut, and Long Island, with specialist PT providers that offer a range of physical therapy services. Evolution is here to provide you with the treatment and additional support you need on your road to recovery. Reach out to us today, by calling us to set up an appointment at a location near you, or filling out our Request an Appointment form.