Physiotherapy is the practice of rehabilitating the body, skeletal system and muscle system after an injury or surgery. Physiotherapists or Physical Therapists evaluate the need for treatment and assign exercises and treatments based upon that need. This is a very common first mode of treatment ordered by physicians for people who suffer from back pain and depending on the injury or problem; this can be very effective for most people.
What causes back pain?
Back pain is caused by a number of factors and can range from mild to severe. Muscle strain, bulging disks between the vertebrae, fractures, pinched nerves and even an injury to a rib can cause back pain. Other less common causes are tumors, arthritis and even infections.
The muscle groups that hold up the spine are usually the biggest culprits and the patient can experience pain from muscle strain caused by bending, stooping or lifting too much weight. Improper body mechanics are the number one biggest cause of back muscle strain. People whose work requires heavy lifting without paying attention to good body mechanics may experience back strain at some point in their career. Athletes or people who exercise frequently who do not stretch before exercise can often experience back strain. Even the average person can strain their back in normal everyday life.
Another common cause of back pain is a bulging disk. This occurs from aging itself or when a back injury is severe enough to cause the cushion between the vertebrae, otherwise known as, the disk, to bulge out. This is a very painful condition and can be pretty common in any age.
Spinal fractures can cause severe back pain and are usually caused by compression of the spine. Fractures to the ribs can also cause back pain since the ribs are connected to the spine with both the connecting joint and the associated muscles.
Pinched nerves usually happen around the sciatic nerve area in the lower lumbar region on either side of the spine. This is a very common cause of back pain and can lead to severe pain with movement.
Tumors anywhere in the chest, neck or abdomen that put pressure on the spine can cause back pain. Arthritis in the joints of the back, neck and shoulder can cause severe back pain and an infection in the bones called, osteomyelitis, can be very painful.
What are the types of back pain?
The types of back pain can range anywhere from sharp and stabbing to dull and throbbing. Back pain can be very hard to control once the pain is allowed to get out of hand. With back pain, many people are incapacitated and unable to do their daily routines without experiencing some sort of pain.
Some different types of back pain are:
- Chronic or long term stiffness or achesthat does not go away with rest or medication
- Sharp stabbing pain with lifting or movement
- Backache with sitting or standing
- Sharp and shooting pain that radiates from the lower back down either one of the legs (sciatic nerve pain)
What are some of the therapies Physiotherapists use to treat back pain?
If you suffer from back pain see your physician first. He or she will then prescribe a course of treatment with a physiotherapist. You will then schedule an appointment and go in for an initial evaluation with the therapist. They will draw up a treatment plan and number of visits expected to relieve the pain and facilitate healing of the injury. In addition, you may or may not be prescribed additional exercise to do on your own at home.
Some of the common treatments for back pain are:
- Heat Packs and Massages – the therapist uses heat packs to first warm the muscles and then uses massage techniques to relax muscle spasms and relieve pressure.
- Cold Packs – Cold packs are used to help relieve inflammation and swelling. This can also decrease blood flow to the area which relieves pain.
- Immobilization – For fractures or severe strains, the therapist may choose to immobilize the joint and keep it stable to facilitate healing.
- Stretching – The therapist may manipulate and stretch injured and sore muscles and also have the patient do these exercises at home. The focus is to prevent re-injury and help relieve any muscle tension. This process can be painful at first, but as healing begins the pain lessens.
- Strength Training – Exercises to strengthen back muscles are usually introduced at the end of physiotherapy. These exercises are designed to strengthen back muscles to support the body properly and also prevent re-injury. The patient is also instructed to do these exercises at home even after the injury heals.
- Patient Teaching – Physiotherapists teach the patient proper body mechanics to prevent injury before it even happens. Prevention is the key and once a patient knows how to avoid back pain, many injuries never happen again.
5 Tips for working with a physiotherapist to help back pain
- Keep all of your physiotherapy appointments; especially in the beginning of treatment. One missed appointment can set your back pain relief back by a week or more.
- Even if you start to feel better quickly, take at easy at first. Doing too much too soon can set you back.
- Remember to warm up and stretch before exercise. Cold muscles strain easily and new strains can develop during treatment if you forget to warm your muscles first.
- Ask questions. Your physiotherapist is your best resource for any questions you may have about your back pain. In order for physiotherapy to help back pain, you need to have good communication with your provider and work as a team.
- Continue to do all the prescribed exercises even after you finish your course of treatments with the therapist. These exercises and stretching routines were designed to help back pain during treatment and prevent back pain in the future.
A patient suffering from back pain and their physiotherapist become a team in back pain treatment. Physiotherapists are a key element in reducing back pain. It takes both patient involvement in therapy and enough visits with the therapist to reduce back pain and heal injuries.