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Can Physical Therapy Help With Low Back Pain?

Low back pain, a pervasive condition affecting millions globally, can be debilitating and significantly impact one's quality of life. Amidst the myriad of treatment options available, physical therapy stands out as a key player in managing and alleviating low back pain.


In this article we look at five important ways that physical therapy can help people in addressing their low back pain, and we look at the science that supports it. We will also shed light on some of the top strategies that physical therapists use when treating lower back pain. Let's take a look!



LivaFortis looks at how physical therapy can help with low back pain.

How Can Physical Therapy Help With Low Back Pain?


1. Tailored Exercise Programs


Physical therapy's foundational approach to low back pain involves the development of tailored exercise programs. These programs focus on strengthening core muscles, improving flexibility, and enhancing overall musculoskeletal function.


The highly specific nature of low back pain means that everyone experiences low back pain differently, and for different reasons. This is why it is vital that patients have a personalized plan.


With this in mind, the exercises prescribed in a physical therapy session should always be individualized to address specific weaknesses or imbalances that each person has that is ultimately contributing to their experience of low back pain.



the exercises prescribed in a physical therapy session are individualized to address specific weaknesses or imbalances

Clinical Evidence:

A study published in the "Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy" (Hides et al., 2011) demonstrated that targeted exercise programs, emphasizing deep core muscle activation, significantly reduced pain and improved function in individuals with chronic low back pain.


These findings emphasize the effectiveness of tailored exercises in addressing the underlying causes of low back pain.


physical therapists use techniques such as massage to help with MSK pain.

2. Manual Therapy Techniques


Manual therapy, which basically means any type of therapy that uses hands-on techniques (think massage), is another go-to of physical therapy for low back pain. Skilled physical therapists use techniques such as spinal manipulation, mobilization, and soft tissue manipulation to reduce pain, improve joint mobility, and optimize musculoskeletal function.



Sports massage can help with low back pain


Clinical Reference:

In a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the "Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy" (Coulter et al., 2018), manual therapy was found to be effective in reducing pain and disability in individuals with acute low back pain.


The study emphasized the importance of hands-on techniques in managing low back pain, highlighting their role in promoting favorable outcomes. Massage can be done either by the physical therapist, or you can do it yourself with massage tools or a simple foam roller.



Physical therapists play a pivotal role in educating their low back pain clients

3. Education and Ergonomics


Physical therapists play a pivotal role in educating their low back pain clients about their condition, including providing information such as:


  • contributing factors

  • preventive measures

  • proper body mechanics


They can also provide helpful information around things like lifestyle modifications to minimize the risk of exacerbating low back pain and to help prevent future flare-ups.



Physical therapists provide helpful information around things like lifestyle modifications for back pain prevention.


Clinical Reference:

A randomized controlled trial published in the "Musculoskletel and Science Practice" (Moffett et al., 2015) demonstrated that education and ergonomic interventions led to improved outcomes in patients with non-specific low back pain.


By empowering individuals with knowledge and practical strategies, physical therapists contribute to long-term management and prevention of recurrent low back pain episodes. Setting up your workplace to support your spine doesn't have to be complicated. A supportive chair or a standing desk may make the world of difference to your back.



physical therapists often use a variety of tools in their practice.


4. Tools for Pain Relief


Physical therapists use lots of different tools and techniques to alleviate pain and promote healing in individuals with low back pain. Some of these tools and techniques include things like heat and cold therapy, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and traction.


These different tools are often used together with other therapies (like exercise) to enhance their effectiveness. Again, it doesn't have to be complicated. Simple heating pads, ice packs, or a basic hot water bottle can achieve the same outcomes as more "exotic" ice baths or infrared saunas.


Heat therapy can help relieve low back pain


Clinical Reference:

A comprehensive review published in the journal "Spine" (Furlan et al., 2002) highlighted the efficacy of modalities such as heat, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation in providing short-term pain relief for individuals with acute and chronic low back pain.


These different devices and tools can be valuable components of a multimodal approach (an approach that looks at more than one thing) to pain management in physical therapy.


Stress-relieving mindfulness practices can help relieve low back pain

5. Behavioral and Cognitive Interventions


Recognizing the complicated link between physical and psychological factors in low back pain, physical therapists are starting to integrate behavioral and cognitive treatments into their rehabilitation plans more often.


These approaches aim to address unhelpful thoughts about pain, reduce fear-avoidance behaviors (like being scared to exercise in case the pain gets worse), and promote positive coping strategies.



stress management is another strategy to help manage low back pain.

Clinical Reference:

A study published in the "European Journal of Pain" (Vibe Fersum et al., 2013) demonstrated the efficacy of a cognitive-behavioral approach in reducing disability and improving function in individuals with chronic low back pain.


By addressing psychosocial factors like stress, anxiety, or fear, physical therapists contribute to a more comprehensive and holistic management of low back pain instead of just treating one symptom of the condition.



Physical therapists should do a complete assessment

Strategies Used by Physical Therapists in Managing Low Back Pain


1. Comprehensive Assessment


When you go for your appointment your physical therapist will conduct a thorough assessment to identify the root causes and contributing factors of low back pain.


Physical therapy assessments often include:


  • evaluating your posture

  • looking at your movement patterns

  • assessing your muscle strength

  • reviewing your joint mobility


A comprehensive understanding of your condition will help your physical therapist to develop a personalized and targeted treatment plan for your back pain recovery which should get you back to feeling like your self much faster.



Physical therapists prioritize patient-centered care


2. Patient-Centered Care


Physical therapists prioritize patient-centered care, involving individuals in decision-making regarding their treatment. This collaborative approach helps their clients to develop a sense of empowerment and improves patient compliance with prescribed exercises and lifestyle modifications.


When you understand what you are doing and why you are doing it you are more likely to follow the instructions and stay with the program.



progress tracking is important in your back pain rehabilitation

3. Progressive Rehabilitation


Rehabilitation programs are designed to be progressive, adapting to the individual's changing needs and abilities. Physical therapists regularly reassess progress and adjust treatment plans accordingly, ensuring that rehabilitation remains effective throughout the recovery process.


Your physical therapy program might include assessments like the Oswestry Disability Index which is a gold standard tool in assessing low back pain. When you are doing your exercises every day it can be easy to miss the progress you are making. Regular check-ins with objective data can help you track your progress, help you see how far you have come, and ultimately keep you motivated.



Physical therapists often collaborate with other healthcare providers

4. Collaboration With Other Professionals


Physical therapists often collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as orthopedic specialists, pain management physicians, and psychologists, to ensure a holistic and multidisciplinary approach to low back pain management.


If you are just treating your condition from one perspective you may not get the same level of recovery. Having different perspectives can help address the many different causes of low back pain and make sure your program is personalized.



Physical therapists emphasize the importance of long-term wellness

5. Promotion of Long-Term Wellness


Physical therapists emphasize the importance of long-term wellness and provide patients with tools and strategies to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes guidance on regular exercise, ergonomic principles, and self-management techniques to prevent the recurrence of low back pain.


Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are recommended by physical therapists.

Conclusion


So, can physical therapy help with low back pain? Overwhelmingly the evidence supports physical therapy as a key player in the overall management of low back pain. Physical therapy doesn't just address the physical aspects of the condition but it also looks at the psychological and behavioral aspects of lower back pain.


The effectiveness of physical therapy is fully supported by clinical references that serve to underline the credibility and reliability of the types of treatments they use in their programs. This means you can rest assured knowing that you are getting the best treatment science can offer.



Physical therapy can help people manage and prevent low back pain


Through tailored exercise programs, manual therapy techniques, education, modalities for pain relief, and behavioral interventions, physical therapists offer a holistic and patient-centered approach to alleviate low back pain and improve overall well-being.


In a world full of false promises and quick fixes, physical therapy stands as a solid, scientifically supported, evidence-based solution for those struggling with pain in their lower back.

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