Back pain can be one of the most debilitating kinds of pain. Most back pain is the result of muscle strain. Poor posture, weakened bones and cartilage, a slipped disc, a pinched nerve, or stress and emotional upset are other causes. Although it’s very uncomfortable, most back pain isn’t serious. Typically, the lower back, which supports almost all of the body’s weight, is the area most affected.
The back serves to support the body, allow movement and contributes to maintaining a stable center of gravity at rest, and more importantly, when in motion. Physical therapy to treat back pain includes both passive and active treatments, stretching, strengthening, and low impact exercise. Visit our Clinic Locations page to find the office nearest you. We look forward to providing you with quality, one-on-one care.
Your physical therapist will give you the tools to treat your dysfunctions and create your own customized treatment program. That’s not all. Anyone who has suffered from low back pain must understand that the problem is not corrected when the pain ends. Muscles must be stronger than before the pain started (that takes 12+ weeks), many weeks are needed to improve flexibility, and repeated practice is necessary to incorporate proper posture and body mechanics into your daily activities.
- Low Back Pain
- Herniated & Bulging Disc
- Lumbar & Cervical Spinal Stenosis
- Lumbar & Cervical Radiculopathy
- Degenerative Disc Disease
- Bone Spur (Osteophytes)
Low back pain can affect the back anywhere below the ribs and above the legs. The lower back is the connection between the upper and lower body, and it bears most of the body’s weight. Because of the role the lower body plays it is easily injured when you lift, reach or twist. Low back pain is usually caused by overuse, strain, injury and age. Depending on the cause and severity, low back pain can cause an array of symptoms. It may:
- Be dull, burning or sharp.
- Be localized or dispersed over a broad area.
- Come on gradually or suddenly.
- Occur with muscle spasms or stiffness
Back pain is grouped into three categories:
- Acute if a spell of pain lasts less than 3 months.
- Recurrent if acute symptoms come back.
- Chronic if your back bothers you most of the time for longer than a 3 month period.
The Key: Your physical therapist will give you the tools to treat your dysfunctions and create your own customized treatment program. That’s not all. Anyone who has suffered from low back pain must understand that the problem is not corrected when the pain ends. Muscles must be stronger than before the pain started (that takes 12+ weeks), many weeks are needed to improve flexibility, and repeated practice is necessary to incorporate proper posture and body mechanics into your daily activities.
The vertebrae that form your spine are cushioned by small, spongy discs that act as shock absorbers for the spine. But when a disc is damaged it may bulge or break open. When the disc breaks open it is defined as a herniated disc. It may also be called a ruptured or slipped disc. A bulging disc could be compared to a volcano prior to eruption and may be a precursor to herniation. The disc may protrude into the spinal canal without breaking open. The gel-like interior (nucleus pulposus) does not leak out. The disc remains intact except a small bubble pops out attached to the disc. A herniated or bulging disc may be caused by age or injury to the spine. As we age our discs dry out and aren’t as flexible. Injury to the spine can cause the gel inside the disc to be forced out through tears or cracks in the outer layer of the disc causing the disc to bulge, break open or break into pieces.
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back, known as the lumbar area. This narrowing can squeeze and irritate the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord. This may cause pain, numbness, or weakness most often in the legs, feet and buttocks. As people age the shape and size of the spinal canal also changes. For example:
- Connective tissue called ligaments gets thicker.
- Osteoarthritis leads to growth of bony spurs that push on the spinal cord.
- Discs between the bones may be pushed backward into the spinal canal.
If the spinal cord or nerves become squeezed some common symptoms may include numbness, weakness, cramping, or pain in the legs, feet or buttocks. If the nerves are not being compressed or squeezed often there are no symptoms.
Cervical Spinal Stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck. The seven vertebrae between the head and chest make up the cervical spine. Squeezing of the nerves and spinal cord in the cervical spine can cause stiffness, pain, and numbness in the neck, arms and legs. Balance and coordination problems, such as shuffling and tipping while walking can occur. However, if the nerves are not being compressed there will be no symptoms.
In mild to moderate cases of Lumbar & Cervical Spinal Stenosis, symptoms can be controlled with medicine to relieve pain, exercise to maintain strength and flexibility, and physical therapy.
Radiculopathy is a condition due to a compressed nerve in the spine that can cause pain, numbness, tingling or weakness along the course of the nerve. Radiculopathy can occur in any part of the spine but most commonly it occurs in the lower back (lumbar radiculopathy) and in the neck (cervical radiculopathy).
People who are prone to having radiculopathy are usually involved in heavy labor or contact sports. A family history of spine disorders can also increase the risk of developing radiculopathy. The most common symptoms of radiculopathy are pain, numbness and tingling in the arms and legs. Lumbar radiculopathy that causes pain that radiates down the back of the leg is commonly referred to as sciatica.
Fortunately, most people can obtain good relief of their symptoms with anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy. If the radiculopathy is severe and the patient doesn’t improve with these treatments the doctor may recommend an epidural steroid injection. The outlook for radiculopathy is good. The majority of patients respond well to conservative treatments.
Degenerative disc disease is not really a disease but a term used to describe the normal changes in your spinal discs as you age. The discs act as shock absorbers for the spine and as we age our spinal discs break down, or degenerate, which may lead to degenerative disc disease. Degenerative disc disease can occur throughout the spine but most commonly it occurs in the lower back (lumbar region) and the neck (cervical region). Some age related changes that occur to our spine are loss of fluid in our discs and tiny tears or cracks in our discs.
Some symptoms that may occur because of this are back or neck pain, but this varies from person to person. Because Degenerative disc disease can weaken the spine significantly it is important to work with a physical therapist on strengthening your back, neck and core muscles. This will help to support the spine better and may also help to reduce the pain.
The term sciatica is commonly used to describe pain traveling from the sciatic nerve in the lower back. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body. Sciatica is a symptom caused by a disorder occurring in the lower back (lumbar spine). Sciatica pain can vary widely. It may feel like a mild tingling, dull ache, or a burning sensation.
In some cases the pain is so severe that the patient is unable to move. The pain most commonly occurs on one side of the body and may be worsened after standing, sitting, sneezing, coughing, laughing, bending backwards or walking. Sciatica is a set of symptoms rather than a diagnosis for what is irritating the root of the nerve, causing pain.
This point is important, because treatment for sciatica or sciatic symptoms often differs, depending on the underlying cause of the symptoms and pain levels. Stretching and strengthening exercises that target the muscles of the lower back, abdomen, and thighs can help reduce the symptoms of sciatica.
Whiplash is a non-medical term describing a range of injuries to the neck following an injury to the soft tissues of your neck specifically ligaments, tendons and muscles. It is caused by an abnormal motion or force applied to your neck that causes an abnormal range of motion. Whiplash often occurs after a motor vehicle accident, sporting activity or accidental fall. Whiplash can also be referred to as cervical sprain, cervical strain or hyperextension injury.
Physical therapy is an effective treatment for whiplash, especially when combined with other treatments, such as bracing and medications. A physical therapist can help restore proper function and movement of the neck by repairing the damaged soft tissue.
Bone Spurs or Osteophytes represent an enlargement of the normal bony structure in the neck or back. Bone spurs are a sign of spinal degeneration as we age. The presence of bone spurs does not necessarily mean that they are the actual cause of the patients back pain. The term “bone spurs’” implies that these bony growths are poking some part of the spinal anatomy but in actuality they are smooth structures that grow over a long period of time as the body’s response to pressure, stress or rubbing of bone over time.
As these enlargements progress, they may protrude into surrounding tissues, sometimes causing pain and other symptoms. Bone spurs can occur on any bone in the body. Physical therapy can help to strengthen the muscle around the area but may not provide permanent relief from the pain.
Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine. There may be one curve (“C” curve) present or two curves (“S” curve). Approximately 2-3 million people have scoliosis and there is no cure for the problem. In most cases (approximately 80%), the scoliosis is idiopathic in nature meaning there is no apparent cause. It affects all age groups and males as often as females. Symptoms may include pain and fatigue and in severe cases difficulty with breathing, digestion, and walking. Treatment typically consists of bracing for moderate curves and surgery for severe curves. Although there is little medical literature to prove the effectiveness of exercise for correction/improvement of a scoliosis curve, physical therapists are your best choice if you are looking for a customized exercise program for you scoliosis. Recommended exercises can decrease pain, stretch tight muscles, and strength the core spine/abdominal muscles.