Low back pain (LBP) is among the most common reasons to visit a physician. In fact, the American Physical Therapy Association estimates that 61% of Americans have LBP, and that 69% of those affected feel it has affected their daily lives.
Treating LBP with surgery can be costly, and the pain often leads to missed work, which costs an estimated $20 billion per year in the United States.
With LBP so prevalent, it’s helpful to be aware that physical therapy is an effective and affordable solution to treat back pain. Studies have shown no major difference between patients who choose spinal cord fusion surgery versus those who choose the non-operative treatment – physical therapy. So how can physical therapy help?
There are different types of LBP with different causes, so a physical therapist will first discuss your individual situation to ensure that you receive the treatment that best benefits you.
The physical therapist will review your medical history and examine you for information like posture, gait, strength, and flexibility. They may have you perform special tests to gauge your range of motion and nerve irritability.
A PT will also ask about your pain: where it’s located, how it behaves, and if there are other related sensations like numbness, tingling, etc. Various forms of manual therapy is used the evaluate the mobility of the joints and muscles in the spine.
Once your physical therapist has determined a PT diagnosis and prognosis, they will set up an individualized plan of care with you to address your pain and improve your mobility.
Treatments will vary from person to person, but may include manual therapy; strengthening and flexibility exercises; training for proper lifting; bending, sitting, and sleeping positions; creating safe and effective physical activity programs for you to continue at home; modalities like ice/heat or e-stim to relieve pain; and finally, educating you on how to best take care of your back.
A physical therapist can also help prevent your lower back pain from coming back in the future. They will show you strategies to use at work and at home to prevent injury through proper lifting, posture, etc.
Plus, staying active and physically fit is one of the best ways to prevent back injury, and your PT will encourage you to maintain a fitness regimen during your sessions as well as independently at home.