Low back pain, be gone! JACO’s physical therapists can get you on the right track to recovery. Before resorting to surgical options, seek conservative care and consider physical therapy for low back pain.
If you’ve already had surgery, then definitely seek physical therapy to strengthen, stabilize and prevent injury to other levels of your spine.
Back pain is a very broad spectrum with many components. It can disrupt your daily life. It can be scary. If you’re unsure of what your symptoms mean, a physical therapist can help you gather facts about your pain presentation so that you can take control over your pain. Don’t let your pain control you.
At JACO, we provide a rare opportunity for you to be treated 1-on-1 by a physical therapist for over 50 minutes every session. We give you power over your injury so that you can confidently discharge from our care. Interested in an appointment? Call us today!
Common Lower Back Injuries that Physical Therapists Treat
Your lower back refers to your lumbar spine. Although these categories tend to group symptom presentations, every individual is different. One diagnosis’ characteristics does not always fit all.
Central Low Back Pain
Sometimes low back pain is pinpoint and does not spread to other areas. This could arise from a number of factors such as immobility in other body regions, placing stress on the low back.
This refers to back pain that spreads symptoms into the leg due to nerve irritation. You may be feeling burning, numbness, tingling, or shooting pain into the hip and leg. This is also very common and treatable with direction-based therapeutic exercises. Sometimes, people refer to these symptoms as sciatica.
Lumbar radiculopathy is often synonymous with herniated disc; however, a herniated disc does not always cause radicular symptoms.
Instability is a term used for lack of a better word. Unless an MRI/x-ray shows severe structural defects (very rare), your spine is structurally sound and very stable. In this case, instability refers to the lack of deep muscular reinforcement to the spine. We’re talking about multifidi, transverse abdominus, and other stabilizing core muscles that you’ll learn about in physical therapy.
Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis
- Spondylolysis: When one of the vertebral facets (the joints that keep the spine integrated) develops a stress fracture, these can occur from overuse in athletes such as gymnasts or dancers.
- Spondylolisthesis: When one of the vertebrae starts to slip forward. Spondylolysis can cause this when not monitored. It can also occur as result of age-related degeneration, which is not always symptomatic.
Does Your Lumbar Spine Get on Your Nerves?
Nerve irritation originating from your lumbar spine can be very frustrating.
Nerves travel from your spine to your toes, and the same nerve that sends information to your toe will also deliver information back to the spine (and, eventually, the brain).
If your nerve is irritated, it can start to mess with your sensation. Have you ever had low back pain and accompanying burning into your foot? How about a numb/tingling sensation into your thigh? Or pain in your bum? That’s a nerve trying to get your attention. Pesky.
Irritated nerves can also affect how well a muscle will function. It’s common to see low back pain and certain weakness patterns associated with lumbar level affected and its corresponding nerve.
JACO’s physical therapists always screen to see if your sensation or weakness is affected by your back pain. Not only does it tell us information about the impact of your injury, but also factors to monitor as you improve. If you still have back pain but you haven’t experienced numbness in your leg for a week, that’s a sign of improvement or centralization.
(By the way, this happens in the neck, too.)
What to Expect during Physical Therapy for Low Back Pain
If you’re seeing a physical therapist for low back pain, you’re taking a great first step in your recovery. JACO Rehab’s team treats low back pain daily. It is one of the most common injuries seen in the clinic.
During your first visit, your therapist will ask you questions to better understand your symptom patterns. He/she may also ask about medical history, as some issues can cause referring symptoms into the low back. If your therapist suspects that your symptoms need more testing to rule out other issues, we always work with your physician to make that happen.
After your therapist gathers information on your symptom presentation, you will receive exercises, stretches to help alleviate your pain. You may even gain insight into what’s causing your pain as well as ideas on how to change your habits to prevent future irritation.
Keep in mind that you see a physical therapist 1-2 hours per week, and the rest of your recovery is up to you. The more compliant you are with your daily exercise regimen, the better your outcomes! If you’re curious about other exercises, make sure you consult your physical therapist first.
Future sessions will focus on reassessing your symptoms and adjusting where necessary. If you’re showing improvements, your physical therapist may progress some exercises to help reinforce these improvements. Continued compliance with your exercises is expected until you have reached your treatment goals.
Are you eager to get on the road to recovery? Looking for conservative options to solve your back pain? Learn how to book an appointment with JACO Rehab today.
Top 5 Frequently Asked Questions about Low Back Injuries
1. How should I sleep with low back pain?
The easy answer? Whatever is comfortable to you. The hard part? Finding that comfortable position requires a lot of trial and error.
Talk to your physical therapist about your symptom patterns and see what ideas he/she may have for you. A new pillow or mattress is not always necessary, and sometimes sleeping in a recliner can be more detrimental to your symptoms. Sometimes it’s as easy as pillow placement.
Sleep is incredibly important for your recovery. Without sleep, your body is working overtime to function, and your pain could be amplified. Your body needs sleep to rest your nervous system.
Be careful when relying on medication to sleep. Find natural ways to improve your sleep cycle and rely less on medication, as you could become dependent. Ask your physician about natural ways to improve your sleep hygiene.
2. Can physical therapy help with sciatica?
Sciatica is a term often used interchangeably with lumbar radiculopathy. Physical therapists treat sciatica on a very regular basis, and many patients see relief quickly. However, long-term improvements require consistency. It may seem like a difficult problem to treat, but conservative care can be very successful without the need for surgery.
Sciatica refers to the specific structure that is irritated: the sciatic nerve. This nerve is thick and runs through the glute to the leg. It’s closely related to a muscle called the piriformis (deep in the glute), so you may also hear “piriformis syndrome” to refer to sciatic symptoms in the glute area.
3. Should I wear a back brace?
Not always. Wearing a back brace on a regular daily basis could be making your issue worse.
Unless you’ve had a surgery where it was specifically prescribed to you by a physician or surgeon, make sure you ask a physical therapist if wearing a back brace is appropriate.
Read more about risk vs benefit of a back brace and when it may be appropriate to wear one.
4. Should I walk, cycle, or swim to help my back pain?
It’s an excellent idea to keep moving with low back pain. Extended rest in response to low back pain has been shown to make symptoms worse long-term. However, when doing the right movements, you could be helping your low back pain by staying active.
Studies have shown that walking is one of the best things you can do for low back pain, regardless of the specific diagnosis. It’s important to increase your distance incrementally. If you can only tolerate 5 minutes, then only do 5 minutes, and work your way up from there.
If walking on land is too difficult or unsafe for you, walking in water is another option. The buoyancy of the water helps offload the spine and make walking much easier. The resistance of the water can help strengthen your core and hips, which will help you walk on land. A pool is the best option, but calm waters in a lagoon or lake can work too.
Biking can be okay if your body can tolerate a flexed position. If your symptoms increase with forward bending activities – like sitting, putting on your shoe, or washing dishes over a sink – biking may not be a good idea initially. You can try it later when your symptoms are under control.
If you’re not sure where to start, consult your physical therapist today.
5. When do I worry about low back pain?
If you have low back pain, do not panic. It’s very common.
However, if your low back pain hasn’t responded to conservative care, it’s time to ask more questions. Low back pain that persists or worsens over time despite different conservative approaches may need additional examination.
Make sure you tell your physical therapist or physician if you have other accompanying symptoms, as it may point to issues that are not musculoskeletal. History of cancer, kidney stones, UTIs, or stomach/gallbladder/intestinal issues can all refer pain to the low back and mimic musculoskeletal symptoms. Changes in bowel/bladder continence and altered sensation in the pelvic region should also be reported.
If symptoms are evolving despite conservative care, we may refer you back to your physician for further testing.
Got more questions? JACO Rehab can help.