• Dr. Clint Woo, DPT, PT

How Can Physical Therapy Help With Back Pain?

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

Back pain (lumbago) is the number one cause of disability and more than 3/4 of the population will experience this at some point in their life! The cause of back pain can span from injury to all types of systems in the body including vascular, nervous, and musculoskeletal. Back pain is extremely complicated, but we do know that physical therapy (PT) has been an excellent avenue for treating/preventing back pain! As is most cases, the faster you can get ahead of your pain, the better!

In physical therapy, a basic step is to look for any problems in your posture and alignment. Think of an uncle holding his nephew close to his person. The baby's weight is relatively manageable as the weight is as close to the "center" of the uncle as possible. Now imagine the baby has had a diaper accident. The uncle will hold out the baby at arm's length shouting for the mother or father to come claim their prize. This baby will all of the sudden feel very heavy because it is far away from the "center" or uncle in this all-too-familiar case. Its the same way for the spine in relation to your trunk! If you can sit/stand with a posture that the trunk sits over the lower back, then the weight is as close to the "center" as possible. If you slouch forward whether it is while eating, driving, typing, grocery shopping, etc, your lower back (lumbar spine) will feel that extra weight! This extra pressure over time can cause structural damage in the form of disc herniations, facet joint inflammation, stenosis, pinched nerves, overly-stretch and overly-shortened muscles, and so on! In physical therapy, we will discover what aspects of your posture are "fixed" meaning they will not change. At this point we will accommodate for this. We will also find out what factors are pliable meaning we can fix the issue with a combination of strengthening, stretching, good habits with lots of repetition.

Back pain can also come on from instability of the spine. If there is too much movement in the spine banging around other structures, (perhaps from a weak core), PT can address which muscles in your core are insufficient and thus which muscles are being overworked as a result causing your lumbago. The lumbar spine has several layers of muscles that support it. The core is much more than just the 8 pack abs (rectus abdominis)! Remember, the body is incredible at compensating, but that can only last for so long as the compensating structures get worn out at double speed! Once we understand what movements are good for your spine in particular (perhaps another blog topic about the dangers of just picking off random exercises off the internet), we can begin the strengthening process in the most safe and logical manner. You might say "how can my back be unstable? I have a really sedentary job!" or the other side can say "why is my back unstable when my job is non-stop lifting action"?! Increasing lumbar spine stability is incredibly a general inactive lifestyle leads to weakness of those unused muscles and an extremely active job leads to either overuse or just compensation of muscles in the same region.

There are several more areas where back pain can come from and thus multiple ways it can be improved. but we'll leave it at there for now. Remember that the earlier you seek a professional for your aches and pains, the better chance you give yourself for full recovery!

As a disclaimer, this blog post isn’t intended as professional clinical advice. We at Woo Physical Therapy and Wellness are proud to serve the Anne Arundel, Howard, and Prince George's counties in-home and online anywhere in the U.S.A.!!

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