As a spine surgeon in Sacramento, I treat many patients without surgery. I send patients with low back pain to physical therapy. I recall a pleasant lady who had severe spinal stenosis. I sent her for back pain therapy and her back and leg pains improved. She wasn’t perfect but she felt that her quality of life was restored. What is back pain therapy and how does physical therapy improve the condition? Here are 4 take home points to remember about back pain therapy.
WHY PHYSICAL THERAPY?
Physical therapy accomplishes several important goals. First back pain therapy focuses on removing pain from the back. Pain is a component of inflammation and compression in the spine. A herniated disc for example can compress the nerves and also set up sciatica from inflammation. Back pain therapy is designed to improve range of motion and diminish inflammation in the back. In addition there is improved blood flow with back pain therapy which removes inflammatory mediators from the back.
Back pain therapy makes you more durable. Back pain therapy helps to strengthen the back and core muscles. Improved core strength makes recurrence of back pain less likely or at least less frequent. Stronger core and back muscles transfers forces in degenerative disc disease away from the disc and onto the muscle groups. As people begin to feel better with physical therapy, they are more likely to adopt healthy nutrition and exercise programs.
A good program involves stretching. A good stretching program is part of back pain therapy. Stretching has many advantages including preventing contractures of the hip, back ligaments and muscles. I have included a post on stretching to review here for low back pain and sciatica.
What types of exercises are recommended? Physical therapists are excellent at tailoring programs for each individual patient. Often in the office, time spent with the physician or assistant is short. Most therapists spend quality time on back pain therapy. Specific exercises I promote include core strengthening, dynamic stabilization, aquatic therapy and lumbar traction. Each patient may respond differently to these programs but overall the success rate is high.In summary, back pain therapy is a first line treatment for low back pain and sciatica. Obviously every human being is different but there is one goal: Get back to baseline and stay there. This post specifically mentions physical therapy but in upcoming posts I will talk about the benefits of chiropractic and acupuncture. All of these modalities have a common goal to help you improve. If therapy is not effective, it is time to take a deeper look. This often involves an MRI or CT scan. I am pleased to report however that a good physical therapist can go along way to a more satisfying existence with less pain.