Whether experiencing pain from an acute strain or suffering with chronic aches, physical therapy is a common method of pain management. Used either on its own or in combination with other medications and lifestyle changes, physical therapy utilizes your body’s natural healing abilities to help promote healthy movement, re-strengthening, and ultimately return the patient to a place of mobility and ease.
Because those who are exploring physical therapy as a treatment modality are likely already injured, it’s important to know what to expect so as to gauge whether physical therapy is the right fit for you. Keep reading below for an overview on how physical therapy works and where to book an appointment.
What is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy is an approach in which specific exercises and movements are used to manage and resolve pain. When looking at back pain specifically, there is both physical therapy for upper back pain and lower back pain. The exercises used in each vary depending on the origin of your pain and the level of strength and flexibility you have at your disposal.
If you and your doctor decide physical therapy is your next treatment step, you will then make an appointment for an initial assessment with your therapist. During this appointment, your physical therapist will determine the extent of your injuries, something which usually requires several measurements such as:
- Strength test
- Functional Mobility
- Range of motion
Once these, and sometimes other, measurements are taken, your physical therapist will determine the best treatment plan for your injuries. This will include which exercises to work on in addition how many times a week you should return for therapy.
What Types of Back Pain Does Physical Therapy Treat?
While physical therapy treats both types, there is a slightly higher success rate for acute pain. This is because the soft tissue strains that create acute neck and back pain are often caused by an injury that heals over time.
However, it is important to know that while the cause of most acute pain is less serious than their chronic counterparts, this is not always the case. An individual seeking pain relief must first seek medical advice to determine whether their sudden pain is from something as simple as poor posture or something as serious as an injury to the thoracic spine.
The Physical Therapy Toolbox
It is recommended that individuals set aside time to meet with a physical therapist rather than performing the exercises on their own. This allows for greater accountability in completing the exercises and completing them correctly.
There are three main activity groups physical therapists will use in the process of healing back pain:
- Strength Training
These exercises are meant to help strengthen your core muscles, thus building in natural support around your spine. Here, you often hold poses such as the Bird Dog, where your arms and legs are held in an alternating kneeling and lifted position. This leaves you with having one knee bent and one leg straight opposite having one arm down and one arm extended outward.
- Flexibility Training
These include a variety of poses that aim to stretch the back and legs. While some stretches are more involved, others are as simple as holding a “child’s pose.” For this stretch, you want to kneel and move your upper body and arms forward. While doing this, make sure your head is in a straight line with your spine and your shoulder blades are fully relaxed.
- Low Impact Aerobics
Low impact exercise is meant to help improve your mobility without putting strain on your joints. Such activities include fast walking, using an elliptical, or various forms of water sports.
A rule of thumb for any exercise is that while it may challenge you, it should never be painful. This is particularly true as many physical therapy exercises for lower back pain can actually cause more harm than good to individuals who are suffering from herniated discs.
As such, it’s important to disclose any existing or prior injuries, medications, and medical history to your physical therapist. This gives them a better sense of what your body will be able to tolerate and what movements, if any, to steer away from. If a movement is causing you pain, be sure to let your physical therapist know so they can adjust your routine.
When It’s Time to Call a Medical Professional
When you are suffering from an injury, you can actually make your condition worse if it is not properly treated. Come types of stretching and strengthening can actually create more injuries than they solve and, until you see a professional, you will not know if the pain you are experiencing is from a routine injury or from a more serious underlying condition.
The Arizona Pain and Spine Institute boasts a full team of seasoned professionals who specialize in minimally invasive and clinically proven modalities to help manage both long and short-term pain. We make a point to stay on the cutting edge of new technologies to help reduce pain and increase quality of life.