One minute you are sailing through life without a care in the world. The next, you slept wrong and can’t even get out of bed. What do you do now? For those experiencing an acute low back pain injury generally you just have to wait it out and manage the temporary pain with some ice and heat packs and maybe some Advil. But for those with chronic lower back pain (defined as low back pain that lasts for 12 weeks or longer) you might have to explore some other options.
International guidelines recommend exercise therapy for lower back pain, along with psychosocial interventions. But exercising with low back pain can be scary and difficult to do on your own. Cue the physiotherapist.
What Do Physiotherapists Treat?
Physiotherapists (physical therapists) are healthcare professionals that work with patients to help them manage pain, improve their mobility, and help them with their motor functions. Most people know about physical therapy treatment for after surgeries or accidents and things like that. But did you know that they can also help address lower back pain?
Physiotherapy is one of the most common ways to help manage low back pain. It can be used as a stand-alone therapy, or it can combine different treatments such as heat therapy, massage therapy, or traction therapy. Physiotherapists are actually always looking at new tools to help treat low back pain so there may be other treatments like cupping, or dry needling, that are used as well.
The human spine is a complicated system of spinal vertebrae, discs, joints, ligaments, and muscles. Physiotherapists are highly skilled and licensed professionals who have extensive knowledge of the body and can work with people on personalized rehabilitation programs to resolve low back pain.
What does a physiotherapist do for lower back pain?
A physiotherapist will often start with a thorough assessment of your concern/injury. Taking a detailed history, looking at your range of motion, palpating the muscles to see how they feel, or even doing muscle strength and length tests can give a physical therapist the information that they need to create a detailed and personalized rehabilitation plan.
How do physiotherapists treat low back pain?
So, how do physical therapists actually treat lower back pain? What can you expect at your appointment? Here are some of the things that physical therapists do most often at appointments.
International guidelines recommend educating low back pain sufferers around their condition and how to manage it appropriately. Reassurance that the condition can be managed is also important.
Staying active, avoiding bed rest, and keeping moving are vital to a faster recovery. Manipulative therapy can work on specific areas of concern/pain to help restore mobility to that part of the body.
Exercise and stretching are core to any recovery program for lower back pain. Spending time working the muscles, restoring circulation to the muscles, and strengthening the core muscles is key to rehabilitation and preventing future episodes.
Strengthening and stabilizing the muscles that surround and support the lower back can help reduce pain and prevent future episodes.
Occupational ergonomic advice.
Work-related low back pain is a common complaint so learning how to stand/sit at work, how to use standing desks and other ergonomic tools and other helpful work tips can make a big difference to your risk of future low back pain.
Different Types Of Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is divided into two types of treatments: active physical therapy and passive physical therapy.
Active Physical Therapy:
Active physical therapy is when the patient engages in physical effort to help regain their movement and range of motion. Participating in active physical therapy is an important part of any rehabilitation program for low back pain.
Passive Physical Therapy
Passive physical therapy is often aimed at reducing pain levels and helping make patients feel more comfortable. Physical therapists often use a range of tools for passive physical therapy. Some tools include: heat/ice packs, TENS units, Ultrasound therapy.
How do physiotherapists deal with pain?
When it comes to managing chronic low back pain, a physiotherapist may use different pain scales (like the Oswestry Disability Index) to try and assess how bad your pain is. Once they have an idea of how much pain you are experiencing and what limitations you might have regarding your day to day activities they can start working on reducing your pain and improving your mobility.
Some of the treatments that physical therapists use to treat pain are:
When Should I See A Physiotherapist For Low Back Pain?
Most cases of low back pain usually resolve on their own within a few weeks but around 20% of cases can go on to become chronic. Many physical therapists recommend making an appointment with them if your pain has lasted more than a few weeks, especially if you find that your range of movement has been significantly affected and you are having trouble with your day to day activities.
How Many Physical Therapy Sessions Do You Need To Treat Low Back Pain?
Quite often the number of sessions you will receive will depend on what your insurance plan will cover. For basic pain relief you will probably need at least 4 sessions and for more chronic issues sessions can range from 8 sessions to more than 12. Many physical therapists let their clients know that while the treatment is effective, it isn't magic and it will take some time to achieve significant pain reduction levels. One session definitely isn't going to do it!
Physical therapy is a tried and trusted method for relieving lower back pain and is recommended by healthcare professionals around the world as a first line treatment for low back pain.
Treatment is often non-invasive and doesn't often have any sort of negative effects on clients. It has sound clinical data to support its effectiveness and it is often covered by health insurance.