Lower Back Pain – A Physical Therapist Perspective
Lower back pain can come in many forms. For some, it may be mild and dissipate on its own. For others, the pain can come and go seemingly on its own. In some cases, it is a problem that lingers and can reduce quality of life and prevent one from performing various activities.
In addition, the pain might be dull, or sharp, or burning. It may be felt in a specific area, or even spread to other areas of the body, such as the legs. It can cause stiffness, restricted movement, and muscle spasms.
Three primary types of lower back pain are acute, recurring, and chronic.
• Acute – The pain lasts for less than three consecutive months
• Recurring – Pain that goes away and returns
• Chronic – The pain lasts for longer than three consecutive months
It is quite common for people who suffer from acute pain to have at least one more recurrence after the initial incident. Most often though, the problem seems to resolve itself on its own.
While back pain is rarely life threatening, it can most certainly be debilitating. With all the nerves traveling through the spine, many issues can lead to pain in other areas of the body as well, especially in cases where pain is left untreated and fails to go away on its own. Some of the many issues that can cause lower back pain is:
• Herniated disks
• Tumors around the spine
• Degenerative disk disease
• Lumbar spinal stenosis
A diagnosis of the cause of lower back pain is diagnosed by:
• A thorough review of your health history.
• An examination that includes assessment of your range of motion, general strength, and any movement behaviors that might inhibit the recovery process.
• Evaluation of your lifestyle habits, focusing primarily on your daily activities.
• Questions pertaining to your specific symptoms, including the initial onset of the pain, daily activities that aggravate the pain, etc.
• Tests designed to determine signs of broken bones or cancer.
In most cases, imaging exams such as x-rays, MRI scans, and CT scans are an unnecessary expense. Typically, diagnosis can be done much more affordably without these types of exams being done. The purpose of the diagnosis process is to determine whether or not the injury is serious enough to warrant an imaging exam being necessary, which in many cases, it isn’t.
How a physical therapist helps:
The goals of the physical therapist are to reduce back pain while simultaneously improving range of motion and overall mobility. Typically, this can be done without any medications (and the side effects associated with them) or surgery being necessary. They will provide treatments that may include manual therapy (such as spinal stimulation), strengthening exercises, instruction on daily care of your back, ice/heat treatments, electrical stimulation, and much more.
Prior to meeting with a physical therapist:
• After a day of rest (if necessary), try to stay as active as you are comfortably able to. Movement helps the blood flow through the back, thereby helping the recovery process.
• If the pain does not begin to subside within a few days or worsens, make an appointment with your physical therapist as soon as possible.