Physical Therapy

Physical Therapy for Back Pain Care

Why Consider Working with a Physical Therapist For My Back Pain?

A physical therapist works with a patient, giving exercises to enhance strength, coordination, balance, flexibility, and range of motion. He will also work on developing better posture. The exercises generally focus on the ability to move around in one’s daily life, such as improving the ability to walk, climb stairs up and down, get out of bed, and sit in chairs.

For example, a back pain physical therapist may ask a patient with back pain to lie down flat on the floor (or an exam table). Then he would hold the ankle and the knee and raise the leg through a complete range of motion, or up to the point where the patient can feel a strain. He’ll repeat this a few times and then work on the other leg. Muscles must keep moving or they will atrophy and dwindle to nothing. If a patient cannot move a muscle on their own, that muscle must be moved by someone else.

By doing this type of exercise, the back pain physical therapist is reestablishing the connection of the movement in the patient’s nervous system, “retraining” it to do the movement just performed.

The physical therapist will then devise additional exercises for the patient to do to reestablish the functioning of the back joints. He may also use ultrasound for healing of the tissues or electrotherapies that stimulate the muscles to regain their muscle tone.

Physical therapists frequently work with patients with all different types of pain and disabilities. They also frequently work with those who are suffering from back pain. They can often be found in several different locations:

• Clinics that work with those who are on Workmen’s Compensation

• Hospitals where patients have suffered stroke, falls, or have disabilities

• Facilities that give intermediate care for patients who have left a hospital but aren’t ready to return home

• Private doctors’ offices

• Sports clinics

Types of Patients Physical Therapists Work With

Physical therapists often have patients who have back pain. For example, when a person falls, they may have fallen on their back and caused muscle strains or sprains. When a person suffers a stroke, they may have back pain from lying in the hospital bed for several days or weeks. The stroke may also have impacted the spinal muscles or leg muscles, which have become weak.

Patients in the hospital for various types of surgery are laid up in bed, unable to move as they did before. Often they will have back pain. Bed rest is the enemy of your muscles, which crave movement and love to support you in the activity you do.

Athletes often receive injuries that can affect their gait and cause back pain, too. For example, a knee injury will affect the hip and hip muscles on the opposite side, which then become overworked. The body tries to compensate by involving the back muscles, and soon there is back pain.

How Long You Should Work With A Physical Therapist

Working with a physical therapist for back pain is not just a one-time session where you are cured immediately. Instead, you will have at least three appointments per week for a minimum of two weeks. Some types of rehabilitation require months or even years to regain function or to maintain function, such as in the rehabilitation of stroke victims, or those with permanent disabilities.

The sooner your ability to walk, stand, sit, walk up and down stairs and get into and out of bed improves, the sooner you can return to life as usual.

Sample Physical Therapy Plan for Someone with Back Pain 

In the assessment of your back pain condition from a physical therapist, a detailed history and physical exam will be performed. What happens next is really determined by the individual physical therapist, but it will generally be similar to this sample physical therapy plan:

8 minutes of stretching exercises

8 minutes of range of motion exercises with assistance

8 minutes of posture exercises or resistance exercises

Instruction on ergonomics

20 minutes of electrical stimulation

10 minutes of heat and/or cold treatment

Instructions for home exercises 

Additional Facts About Back Pain Physical Therapists

A back pain physical therapist does not manipulate your joints. He is not trained to do any spinal manipulations. The only professions trained to give spinal manipulations and licensed to do so are chiropractic and osteopathic physicians (Link to Health Practitioners page).

The field of physical therapy goes back to the 1920s when soldiers became disabled and needed extra help, other than what the doctor could offer them. Over the years, the curriculum of physical therapists has changed and the program to become a physical therapist is now a 4-year university degree. Some physical therapists go on to earn a Master’s degree or doctorate degree as well, but they still are prohibited from adjusting the spine. Most physical therapy techniques are backed by significant scientific studies to show effectiveness, as opposed to other forms of treatment that may rely on theory only.