Physical therapy is an important treatment option for most back pain sufferers. A physical therapist is trained to carry out your doctor's orders to stretch, strengthen, and exercise your back in a safe and effective way. It is important that physical therapy is coupled with education, so that patients can be empowered to take charge of their own recovery.
Physical therapists are trained to give instruction on posture, educate patients about basic anatomy and physiology, and instruct patients in body mechanics, stretching, strengthening and conditioning exercises. The physical therapist also works with the physician to determine if other types of treatments including ultrasound, heat, diathermy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), electrical stimulation, hydrotherapy, massage or spinal manipulation may be indicated.
What should you expect from a visit to the physical therapist?
The physical therapist will do an evaluation and will determine if there are any joint limitations or muscle weakness as well as pinpointing the pain distribution in your back. Heat therapy and massage, as well as ultrasound may be used to ease back pain. In the past these types of treatments, which demanded little from the patient, and soothed the pain were used as the mainstay of treatment. Unfortunately, while these "modalities," as they are called by physical therapists, feel good at the time, the pain relief produced by massage and ultrasound treatments are often only temporary.
More recently physical therapists have demanded physical activity from their patients, which may cause minor pain at the beginning of the course of treatment, but has longer lasting therapeutic effects: strengthening the back and relieving pain in the long run. Physical therapists that treat patients with movement, exercise, strengthening and conditioning, encouraging gradual increase in activity, are usually the most successful.