Physical Therapy For Lower Back Pain
What is Physical Therapy for Lower Back Pain?
Did you know that lower back pain is the most common injury for which patients seek physical therapy? It’s also one of the top ailments for which people miss work. Physical therapy for lower back pain can often resolve the problem without surgery, or aide in recovery after an operation has taken place.
Physical therapy for lower back pain can mean many different things. The best way to make an informed decision about the type of therapy you need is to understand how therapy works and to find out what types of physical therapy are available today.
Do YOU need Physical Therapy?
A common misconception is that bed rest is the best way to recover from back injuries. While this may be true for one to two days following surgery, returning to normal activities as soon as possible aids the recovery process. Light exercise, household chores, and daily activities can actually be beneficial for your back. This is due to the fact that it is easier to recover from an injury when you are in good physical condition.
The goal of physical therapy is to gradually help a patient get back to normal activities. Your physician will most likely encourage you to begin physical therapy as an alternative to surgery or other aggressive treatment methods, or to aid your recovery process after surgery. In some cases, patients begin physical therapy for lower back problems before a surgery takes place, in order to strengthen the muscles surrounding the injured area.
How Do I Begin Physical Therapy?
In states like Washington, patients can legally see a physical therapist without a physician’s referral. Occasionally, insurance companies do not allow this, so you must check your Insurance policy or pay for your visit with cash. The first appointment that you make with your physical therapist will be for an initial evaluation. Physical therapists can determine whether you are an appropriate candidate for therapy, and what type of therapy will benefit you the most. At times they may recommend that a patient see a physician for further testing before beginning physical therapy. Tests like X-rays and MRIs can help determine the cause of your pain and rule out serious back problems such as tumors or fractures.
However, most back pain is not serious and is caused by bad posture, overuse, and poor lifting techniques, all things that can be corrected with physical therapy. In fact, 80% of people will suffer from some type of lower back pain in their lifetime. Seeing a physical therapist right away can keep your back problem from becoming chronic.
The choice to undergo physical therapy is ultimately your own, and knowing what to expect will help you avoid unwanted surprises when the time comes to submit to a therapy regimen. One of the main reasons why some patients say, “physical therapy doesn’t work” is because they were not prepared to commit to frequent sessions, daily exercises at home, and nutritional constraints that were suggested to them. If you decide to begin physical therapy, you must make a solid commitment to following your therapist’s guidelines in order to get the best results.
Types of Physical Therapy for Lower Back Pain
In general, physical therapy is divided into two main categories: active physical therapy, and passive physical therapy (modalities).
- Active physical therapy: Studies have shown that active physical therapy holds the most long-term benefit for a patient. With this type of therapy, the patient performs stretching and strengthening exercises prescribed to them by a qualified therapist. These may be carried out with the therapist’s help at first in order to perform them correctly, and gradually more will be assigned to do at home. The stretches and strengthening exercises will be very specific to a patient’s current abilities and the amount of pain they are experiencing. Some physical therapy programs also include aquatic (pool) therapy as an option.
- Passive physical therapy: This type includes things that are done to the patient, such as applying heat or cold packs, electrical stimulation, and therapeutic ultrasound. It may also be referred to as manual therapy and can involve massaging the affected area. When used alone, this type of therapy can provide fast pain relief, but it is more effective in the long run when combined with exercise and stretches.
An ideal physical therapy regimen will include both active and passive forms of therapy, plus guidance and instruction from a qualified healthcare provider. Some therapy plans may also include nutritional guidelines to help strengthen your body and attack health issues at their roots. Your therapist will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of your lifestyle and capabilities in order to provide you with a specific therapy plan tailored to your needs.
Goals of Physical Therapy for Lower Back Pain
Alleviating pain is not the only reason for undergoing physical therapy. The main goal of this type of treatment is to increase a patient’s quality of life by helping them return to normal day-to-day activities. One common misconception is that a patient cannot be involved in sports or exercise until they are pain free. This is not necessarily true. Staying in bed and waiting for the pain to resolve is a method that rarely works, since the complete disappearance of lower back pain has much to do with fortifying abdominal (stomach) and low back musculature, something that can only be accomplished with stretches and strengthening exercise. Since the lower back muscles stabilize and support your bony spine and discs, you’ll need to strengthen them as much as possible. The stronger they become, the less stress you’ll be placing on the discs and joints in your spine.
Adhering to an ongoing exercise plan, even after you have completed your physical therapy sessions, is essential for warding off potential pain flare-ups in your lower back.
Cost of Physical Therapy
Many physical therapy programs are covered by insurance, but you will have to research whether or not this is true in your case. Cost per session can vary from $10 to $75 with insurance, and from $50-$350 without. The following factors ultimately determine how much you’ll pay:
- The severity/complexity of your injury
- The therapist you choose
- The number of sessions you’ll need
- Whether your therapy is covered by insurance or not
In addition, your dedication to your physical therapy regimen can become a huge determiner when it comes to cost. This is because active therapy that you perform with the help of your provider, plus manual therapy and passive therapy techniques, must be accompanied by exercises at home. In general, if you do not perform the daily stretches and exercises suggested by your therapist, you may require more sessions to recover from your injury. You may visit the therapist once or twice per week, but this may not be enough to facilitate a speedy recovery. Furthermore, it is important to follow any other indications prescribed by your healthcare provider, such as nutritional constraints and medications, for optimal results. Following a physical therapy regimen has been proven to save patients money (as well as time and pain!) in the long run, especially when compared to other treatments.
The Results of Physical Therapy
The results you obtain from physical therapy for lower back pain depend largely on the severity of your problem and your adherence to the regimen provided to you by your therapist. Physical therapy can lead to increased mobility and strength and decreased pain. You may be able to return to daily activities, such as work or sports, more quickly than you might think. Subsequently, you’ll be able to improve your independence and mood as your health improves, and you’ll enjoy a better quality of life.