Low Back Pain
Out of all of the orthopedic conditions that Physical Therapists treat, low back pain is the most common. Low back pain can occur whether you are young or old, and it can last a few days or be off and on for years. It can be aggravated by a single event such as bending over, a car accident, or the pain can sneak up gradually over time.
Because low back pain can present many different ways, it is not a one size fits all condition. There can be issues with the joints in your spine, and this can cause stiffness in the bones in your low back. You could also be experiencing low back pain with possibly some weakness or numbness and tingling in your lower leg. Your low back could be taking too much of the load during activities due to weakness in your core and hip muscles. Whatever the cause, Physical Therapy for low back pain can help you return you back to function!
What Causes Low Back Pain?
As mentioned above, there are MANY different causes of low back pain. Here is a brief overview of the most common causes.
- Disc and Nerve-related Conditions:
- Herniated Disc
- Lumbar Radiculopathy
- Degenerative Conditions: common over the age of 50
- Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
- Degenerative Disc Disease
- Facet Joint Syndrome
- Myofascial Conditions: common in individuals 20-50 years old
- Muscle Strain or Spasm
- Ligament Sprain
- More Serious Conditions:
- Kidney Disease
Signs and Symptoms of Low Back Pain
Your pain might be in the center of your low back right above your belt line, it could be off to one side, or it could even begin to radiate down into your buttock region. The pain area could be a pin-point location or span across a larger region. Symptoms could vary between sharp or stabbing pain, throbbing pain, a dull ache, or shooting pain. The pain could be constant or come and go depending on the time of day or your activity level. You might not even be experiencing pain, but rather you feel more stiffness and an uncomfortable feeling in your low back.
The time limit and how frequently you experience your symptoms also helps define your low back pain. The main three categories of pain are:
- Acute Low Back Pain (pain that has lasted less than 3 months)
- Chronic Low Back Pain (pain that has lasted more than 3 months)
- Recurrent Low Back Pain (multiple periods of 3 month episodes of acute low back pain that comes and goes)
*If you are experiencing any symptoms that are more severe such as loss of bowel or bladder, progressive and severe weakness in both legs, decreased sensation in your groin area, or unexplained weight loss, please see your doctor immediately.
Tips for Managing Your Back Pain
Acute Low Back Pain
Typically resting for a short period of time can help calm down your symptoms initially. Ice can be used any time your back becomes hot and inflamed, such as after a fall or after a sudden movement that caused a sharp pain. Heat is commonly used after a car accident or repetitive activities that cause your back to ache and throb afterwards. Sometimes alternating heat and ice or using creams such as IcyHot or Biofreeze can also help you find some relief.
The most important thing to remember is that resting for a little bit after injuring your back is okay, but bed rest for multiple days is not recommended! The longer you stay inactive, the tighter your muscles and joints can become, and this can cause you more low back pain. Especially if you have been involved in a car accident, it is essential to keep moving!
If you recently aggravated your low back, it is also best to avoid prolonged positions such as sitting or staying in a crouched position for a long period of time. Additionally, attempt to avoid any heavy lifting or repetitive squatting movements until your pain begins to decrease.
If you have been suffering with low back pain for more than two weeks and cannot find any relief, it may be time to consult your doctor or refer yourself to Physical Therapy.
Recurrent or Chronic Low Back Pain
Perhaps you have been suffering with low back pain for years and have tried multiple different treatment options with no relief. Clearly something is causing your pain to keep coming back, and Physical Therapists are trained to come up with solutions to allow you to have more pain-free days.
Physical Therapy for Low Back Pain
In the majority of cases, low back pain can be successfully treated conservatively through Physical Therapy. During your first session, your PT will ask you multiple questions so he/she can figure out what is the underlying issue of your pain. These questions could include:
- What movements cause your pain?
- Is your pain worse in the morning or at night?
- Does your pain get gradually worse during the day or is it caused by a single movement?
- Do you have numbness or tingling down your leg or in your foot?
- When did your symptoms begin?
- Have you tried any other treatments before today?
The initial goal of PT is figuring out which movements cause your pain and avoiding them in the beginning of treatment to decrease your symptoms. Your PT can then find stretches or positions that feel good and help alleviate your low back pain. Once your pain decreases, you can begin performing your regular activities again. Typically strengthening exercises for your core and hip muscles is also necessary to reduce the strain in your low back muscles. Manual therapy (hands-on treatment) also assists in loosening your tight muscles and improving the stiffness in your back joints. Dry needling is also an effective approach for relieving low back pain!
You will receive a home exercise program that was designed specifically for you, and your PT will regularly check in with your exercises to make sure they are still beneficial for you. After you graduate from PT, these exercises will be your tool to help prevent future episodes of low back pain.
There are numerous treatment options for low back pain including injections, pain medications, chiropractor, massage, or possibly even surgery. If you have tried any of these treatments but nothing has helped, give PT a try! We see patients every day with low back pain, and we would love to help alleviate your pain!
If you’re experiencing Low Back pain, please contact us by using the form below and we can get you scheduled with one of our dedicated physical therapists!