A lot of patients visit my practice because they are dealing with debilitating back pain. Be it from an acute injury or spinal degeneration over the decades, back pain is a complex problem that isn’t always easy to solve. Unlike a broken arm that heals with rest and casting, back injuries often involve a more hands-on approach.
One of those treatment techniques is physical therapy. We explain why physical therapy can be beneficial for a variety of different back conditions in today’s blog.
Physical Therapy and Back Pain
We’ve explained that rest can be helpful for back pain in the short-term, but after a little while you’re going to want to restrengthen the core muscles and ligaments in the affected area. The goal of physical therapy is generally tw0-fold:
- To decrease pain; and
- To increase function
Additionally, physical therapy can help educate a person about how their body responds to pain and how to manage and treat it, so some might say physical therapy serves three important benefits.
It’s also important that you don’t just dive into an unstructured physical therapy program for back pain. Visiting with a neurologist or spine specialist can pinpoint the problemed areas and help you develop a customized physical therapy plan. After all, a good surgeon will recommend conservative treatment options before diving into operative options. Regardless of your exact condition, the specialist will likely recommend two different types of physical therapy. Passive physical therapy and active physical therapy.
Active vs. Passive Therapy for Back Pain
As the names suggest, active and passive physical therapies are two separate techniques that seek to achieve different goals. Oftentimes passive physical therapy helps to decrease pain associated with a condition, while active physical therapy helps to rehabilitate the affected area. Another difference between the two is that passive physical therapy is often performed to the patient, while active physical therapy is performed by the patient.
Here are some examples of passive physical therapies/modalities:
- Ice Pack
- TENS Unit or electrical stimulation
Here are some examples of active physical therapy options:
- Strengthening exercises
- Low-impact aerobic conditioning
- Water exercises
Active physical therapy is best performed for 15-45 minutes depending on the activity. Stretching your lower back, hamstrings and shoulder areas can help warm the body up for exercise. This can be performed in 5-10 minutes, and then you should consider some core strengthening exercises, as these help work the back muscles and related structures. Your doctor can help provide you with a few customized examples, otherwise a simple Google search can provide some helpful exercises. If you opt instead for low-impact or water based therapy, 3-4 sessions a week of 30-45 minutes of activity can do wonders for your back. That said, if back discomfort become back pain, stop the activity as pushing through it can worsen symptoms.