5 Truths About Back Pain: A Physical Therapist’s Perspective
Chronic lower back pain is one of the most common of all the disorders we diagnose and treat at our physical therapy clinic. We spend a lot of time educating our patients and their loved ones about this general health condition, including why it occurs and how to prevent it from happening.
Many people are not aware that chronic back pain is not inherently a “normal” aspect of aging. Some just assume that as you get older, you have no choice but to deal with back pain. However, even if you have been struggling with a problematic back for years, you can live with less pain and improved function.
To schedule an initial appointment, we invite you to contact Fit Rehab Physical Therapy today. Until then, keep reading to learn five key things our physical therapist team has learned about chronic back pain over the years.
1. You don’t always need surgery and medications to battle back pain.
Many individuals believe that problems such as herniated discs can only be treated with surgery. But although surgical intervention is required in some cases, invasive procedures such as spinal fusions are typically not considered the first route of treatment for chronic back pain.
Research suggests that only about half of first-time back surgeries successfully relieve the symptoms of an individual and enhance their function. With less than 30 percent of individuals reporting good results following a second spine surgery, repeat back operations do often result in worse symptoms. Believe it or not, this topic is so well-documented that it has gained its ominous nickname in medical journals: failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS).
Surgery also comes with its challenges, such as prolonged recovery time and the risk of post-operative complications like infections and bleeding.
Meanwhile, physical therapy is recognized by the medical and scientific communities as one of the first lines of treatment for chronic back pain. Research even suggests that working with a physical therapist can help a person with chronic back pain reduce their dependency on opioid medications. Not only does this make physical therapy the clear cost-effective choice, but it also shows why physical therapy is often the safer option.
2. Chronic back pain is preventable in most cases with physical therapy.
The majority of back pain risk factors are preventable, according to research. This is great news for you! It means that reducing your risk of chronic pain and alleviating your symptoms is largely within your control (and maybe with a bit of help from a physical therapist).
Common preventable risk factors for chronic back pain include:
- Excessive weight
- Poor posture
- Sedentary behavior
- Physically demanding jobs, including ones that require frequent sitting, bending, twisting, heavy lifting, or exposure to vibration
Other factors such as stress, anxiety, and depression chronic increase the risk of chronic back pain as well. Many people don’t realize this. That’s one reason our physical therapy team takes a holistic approach to our treatment plans and are always prepared to refer our patients to mental health professionals as appropriate.
3. Most people will have to deal with back pain at least once.
Unfortunately, most of us will experience back pain to some extent during our lives. Studies tell us the vast majority of people (as many as 8 out of 10) will experience at least one episode of back pain at some point in their lifetime.
Not everyone will have long-lasting pain, and in many cases, a person’s symptoms will go away within a few weeks without the need for any special medical care. This is good news!
However, even if a person’s back pain resolves on its own, there’s always the possibility that hidden contributing factors, such as inflexibility or poor body mechanics, will still be a problem. This can increase the likelihood of experiencing recurring back pain and injury. Research even suggests that a history of back pain is itself considered a risk factor for future problems.
This is another big reason why consulting with a physical therapist as soon as possible when you have back pain can be so helpful for your long-term spinal health. A physical therapist can help you uncover and address hidden issues that are putting you at risk for conditions like muscle strains, degenerative disc disease, disc herniation, and nerve impingement and joint misalignments.
4. It’s important to find and treat the root cause of chronic back pain with physical therapy.
Even imaging studies aren’t always useful for helping doctors determine the cause of a patient’s back pain. Remember how we said that most people will experience back pain at least once in their lives? Incredibly, research suggests many of these cases are “idiopathic,” meaning that doctors don’t know exactly what’s causing a person’s symptoms!
An MRI may reveal a herniated disc in the spine of a person who has no signs or symptoms whatsoever. Meanwhile, a person with debilitating back pain may have a perfectly “normal” spine as seen on an MRI or X-ray. But even if it’s not possible to pinpoint the exact underlying cause of chronic back pain, physical therapy can still help
A physical therapist receives extensive training in evaluating, diagnosing, and treating spinal conditions. By designing a plan of care based on addressing the symptoms and known contributing factors—including poor posture, decreased hip and shoulder range of motion, and weak core muscles—a physical therapist can help you to achieve long-lasting relief.
5. In a majority of cases, exercise can improve back pain.
Exercise keeps your muscles and tissues strong, boosts circulation, reduces chronic inflammation, enhances mood, relieves stress, and helps you maintain a healthy body weight—all of which can ease and prevent back pain.
We understand that moving around when you have chronic back pain can be a huge struggle. But with very few exceptions, participating in some form of daily movement is an important part of controlling your pain.
A variety of activities are proven effective, including aerobic exercises like walking and cycling, and specific exercises to improve tissue healing, strength, flexibility, and endurance.
Consider that what works for some people may not be the best mode of treatment for you. That’s where a physical therapist can come in to help! By honoring your specific needs and goals, a physical therapist can help you develop a safe, effective, and sustainable exercise program that you can enjoy as a part of your daily life.
Are you tired of dealing with back pain?
There’s no reason you need to keep struggling with back pain, day in and day out. Contact Fit Rehab Physical Therapy if you need help reclaiming your healthy active life and are ready to start living with less pain. Our physical therapists are skilled movement specialists who are eager and excited to help you get back to feeling your best!