Try as we might to stay safe and fit, most of us will experience lower back pain at some point in our lives. In fact, lower back pain is second only to the common cold as the ailment most addressed by primary care doctors.
Usually, the pain is minor and transitory, caused by strenuous activity, injury, or simply poor posture. However, when it is more severe and persistent – as in the case of a herniated disc, degenerative disease, or sciatica, for example – it can be challenging to find relief, requiring the expertise of an orthopedic specialist.
There are numerous forms of treatment for lower back pain, including anti-inflammatory medications and therapeutic injections. One of the most effective, however, is physical therapy. Not only is it an alternative to surgery for many painful lower back conditions, but it also serves as an integral part of the post-operative rehabilitation process.
Common Forms of Physical Therapy for Low Back Pain
Patients with low back pain are often referred for physical therapy for four weeks as an initial conservative treatment option before they are considered for more aggressive treatments, such as back surgery. The goal is to reduce their back pain, increase function, and teach the patient a maintenance program to prevent future back problems.
Common forms of physical therapy for lower back pain include:
- Passive physical therapy – This includes measures such as heat application, ice packs, and electrical stimulation. Heat, for example, is applied to warm the muscles before exercising and stretching. An ice pack is used afterward to soothe muscles and soft tissues.
- Active physical therapy – This type of therapy focuses on specific exercises and stretching. It is the basis of most low back pain treatment programs.
Specific Exercises for Lower Back Pain
Physical therapy specifically designed to treat lower back pain includes:
- Proper stretching of muscles experiencing disuse atrophy (shrinking from lack of use) or in spasm, combined with active exercise to provide pain relief. Proper stretching also helps maintain a normal range of motion. The patient’s stretching routine is customized by a spine physician or physical therapist.
- Dynamic stabilization exercises involve the use of various activities using exercise balls, balancing machines, or particular stabilizing exercises. These stabilization practices are aimed at strengthening the secondary muscles of the spine and helping support the spine with various ranges of motion.
- Core strengthening exercises (such as sit-ups, crunches, and leg raises) designed to strengthen abdominal and low back muscles, as well as hyperextensions (low back exercises), performed on a machine, utilizing the lower back muscles as a means of hyperextending the spine.
- Aquatic physical therapy supports the patient’s body while minimizing the effects of gravity, making it easier for the patient to complete exercises. A physical therapist uses aquatic therapy for an elderly or disabled patient who doesn’t have the strength to perform some calisthenics outside a pool.
Some physical therapy programs also include lumbar traction. In this treatment, the patient lies on their back, secured to a unique table. A cable is attached on one end to the patient’s hip and then to weights at the foot of the table, to provide a continuous pulling force on the hips. This traction allows muscles in the lumbar spine to rest and removes pressure from the disc space.
Adirondack Physical Therapy in Watertown, New York
North Country Orthopaedic Group in Watertown, New York, provides patients in need of physical therapy with a thorough evaluation by a local licensed therapist and a custom treatment plan. To learn more, call us today at (315) 782-1650 to schedule a consultation or use our convenient online Request an Appointment form.