Back Care and Physical Therapy

Back pain is second only to headaches as the most common medical complaint in the United States. At St. Joseph's/Candler, we understand that successfully treating lower back pain begins and ends with successfully treating the underlying cause of the pain. It takes a commitment to the most comprehensive treatment involving surgeons, nurses and physical therapists. Whether the condition is disc herniation, degenerative disc disease, arthritisosteoporosis, spinal stenosis or scoliosis, success takes a SMART approach.

We are all at risk for back pain. The cause could be poor posture, improper lifting technique, poor physical condition, injury or illness. But in most cases, preventive measures can reduce the risk of injury to the spine. At St. Joseph/Candler, physical therapists with specialty training in spine therapy not only treat acute problems but also work with patients via patient education to develop long-term strategies that help reduce the risk of re-injury. We help our patients by providing individualized evaluations, workplace assessments, specialized therapy (including aquatic therapy), exercise programs and pain-management strategies.

These programs can be tailored to the specific needs of patients, whether they are contemplating surgery, seeking self-care information or suffering from recurring back pain. Sessions can be pre- or post-operative and last approximately an hour.

Spinal Anatomy Summarized

Your spine is composed of separate bones called vertebrae, stacked vertically. Between each vertebra are intervertebral disc--your spine's shock absorbers. A healthy spine assumes an S-shaped curve to assure strength and balance. The spinal cord runs through an arch in the vertebrae. Your back also has numerous layers of large muscles to help maintain proper posture. Ligaments connect the bones and stabilize the vertebrae. Back pain can result from even slight injury to any of these structures.

Smart Tips for Improved Spinal Health

Poor lifting technique puts the spine at great risk of injury. Below are a few safety tips that will help reduce the risk of back injury, particularly if your work requires repetitive lifting:

  • Pace yourself and take many small breaks.
  • Make sure you can safely lift the object. Push the object with your feet to judge its weight. Check to make sure you can grip it easily and that it's positioned where you can safely lift and move it. Overhead objects may require a lift or ladder.
  • Make sure the object is well-packed and balanced and won't shift after you lift it.
  • Lift the object slowly and steadily using your legs, not your back. Keep the load close to your body and in front of you. Avoid twisting.
  • Try to carry the load in the space between your shoulder and your waist. This puts less strain on your back muscles.
  • Avoid carrying objects on slippery or uneven surfaces.
  • Don't rely on your back belt, get help instead.


Although low back pain can be debilitating, 97% of sufferers recover within four to six weeks using conservative treatment. Some of the best treatments for back pain are:

  • Medication - Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen are commonly used for acute low back pain. Your doctor may prescribe a stronger anti-
    inflammatory or a narcotic analgesic if pain is severe. Self-applied ice in the acute phase also helps reduce pain and swelling. After the first 48-72 hours, apply heat.
  • Activity - One to two days of bed rest may be needed in severe cases of back pain; otherwise, it is best to keep moving. Moderate pain during physical activity is a normal part of the recovery process. Begin low-stress exercise as soon as possible.
  • Work and Home - Arrange your house and work environment to be "back-friendly." Remember your back should be in neutral posture for all activities. You may need
    to raise or lower work surfaces, throw out old mattresses and make sure you are not over-reaching for items. Poor sitting posture is a major cause of backaches. Change positions often and make sure you have effective lumbar support.
  • Lifestyle - The greatest risk factors for lower back pain are obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Excess weight stresses bones and muscles and inactivity leads to weak muscles. Talk to a healthcare professional about lifestyle modifications.
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