The basics of back pain
- Back pain is a common condition, affecting an estimated 80% of the population at one point in their lives.
- It is often from overusing or misusing the back’s ligaments and muscles, and can affect anyone of any age or gender, though risk does increase with age.
- Pain can vary by intensity and frequency depending on the cause. It does not always require treatment outside of rest and often resolves on its own.
- But if the pain is severe or doesn’t improve after a few days, patients should call a healthcare provider such as a physical therapist. People should also get medical attention if pain in the back follows an injury, such as a fall.
- Spine & Sport Physical Therapy offers therapy for back pain, as well as prevention techniques and education for injured patients, workers, athletes and anyone suffering from back discomfort and pain.
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What is back pain?
An estimated 8 out of 10 people will experience back issues at some point in their lives. Back pain is the single leading cause of disability globally, preventing people from participating in activities of daily living, work and sports.
Not all such pain requires treatment, and some issues will resolve on their own. Pain in this area can range from feeling like a dull, persistent ache to being a sharp pain. It can also be short-term pain (acute) or long-term pain (chronic).
- Acute pain lasts between a few days to a few weeks. It is often a result from a fall, accident or improper lifting. This pain usually gets better on its own but is prone to recurrence if coupled with weak muscles and repetitive movements causing the pain.
- Chronic pain lasts for more than 3 months.
Our physical therapists can help ease acute and chronic pain and prevent more serious injury. (See more on back pain treatment below.)
What causes back pain?
Anyone can develop back pain, even children, although it is more common as people age. While sports injuries, workplace accidents or other disruptive events cause pain, it is often due to more benign causes that cannot be identified with a test or imaging. Moreover, arthritis, obesity, poor posture, bone loss, kidney stones and other conditions can complicate or cause back pain. For example, issues with the spine or posture can pinch nerves in the back, causing pain that can radiate from the back into the hips, buttocks, groin and legs.
Pain can be anywhere on the back, from the upper back, middle back to lower back. Low back pain is particularly common and can be caused by:
- Herniated or ruptured discs.
- Strained muscles,
Risk of not treating this pain
Left untreated, this pain can have a profound effect on physical and mental health. Continuous pain can lead to sleep loss, irritability and activity avoidance or depression. Underlying conditions causing back pain, if not addressed, can be further debilitating.
Physical therapy for back pain
Physical therapy is one of the most important tools in addressing pain.
Doing exercises and movements while experiencing pain may seem like the wrong thing to do, but it is actually one of the best ways to alleviate the pain. The key with back pain is to not add more pain from doing the wrong exercises and movements. Our physical therapists are specifically trained in prescribing the right level of assistance to reduce the patient’s pain, not add more.
Many patients benefit from physical therapy not only to relieve pain but also prevent its recurrence by improving their overall physical conditioning.
Physical therapy for this type of pain usually has three components:
- Modalities and manual techniques to help reduce pain to a more manageable level.
- Active exercises to increase flexibility and strengthen back and core muscles.
- Patient education including proper lifting mechanics, how to improve posture and how to modify or avoid movements that are causing pain.
In general, we usually prescribe some form of aerobic activity, like pedaling on a stationary bike, jogging or walking. Introducing gentle movement can reduce the pain.
Our therapists will design a care plan that incorporates more specific exercises or activities depending on the individual’s pain and its cause. Physical therapy for this kind of pain should always be highly individualized, as what benefits one back can harm another.
Spine & Sport’s emphasis on teaching injury prevention and healthy behaviors helps patients to maintain the improvements made as a result of their back physical therapy. This helps them return more rapidly to the activities they enjoy, while also preventing re-injury or future pain.
One of the best ways to prevent back pain is to keep your back and core muscles strong. Learn more about strength and flexibility exercises.
When to see a doctor for back pain
- Causes new bladder or bowel problems.
- Numbness, tingling or loss of sensation in the saddle region.
- Accompanies a fever.
- Results from a fall, blow to the back or other injury.
- Accompanies problems with reflexes.
A physician can help diagnose underlying causes and related conditions leading to the pain. The provider will take the patient through his or her medical history, discuss symptoms, and conduct a physical exam in order to accurately diagnose the cause of pain.
Prescribed treatment for back pain depends on the kind of pain someone is experiencing and what is causing it. A doctor may recommend over-the-counter medications, hot or cold packs, exercise, physical therapy, rest, injections, and complementary or alternative treatments. More severe back pain may sometimes require surgery.
In rare cases, back pain is a sign of a more serious medical issue.
Back injuries are not only some of the most common injuries, they are also highly preventable. Learn more about Spine & Sport’s many programs related to preventing or managing back pain.
Spine & Sport clinics offering physical therapy near me
All of our clinics in Southern & Northern California offer physical therapy services for back pain.