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Understanding the causes and treatment of low back pain

Sep 11, 2018


St. Joseph’s/Candler’s outpatient physical therapy program can help manage back pain

Do you suffer from low back pain? If so, you are not alone.

Low back pain is a common ailment that many Americans suffer from at some point in their lives. In fact, back and neck pain affects 80 to 85 percent of the adult population.

Joshua Frey, PT, DPT, physical therapist with St. Joseph’s/Candler outpatient rehabilitationWhether you recently strained your back while lifting or have a sore back after a long day at work sitting or standing, back pain can be debilitating. Low back pain is typically related to physical structures – muscles, bones, ligament, tendons and nerves – within the lower back, also known as the lumbar spine, explains Joshua Frey, PT, DPT, physical therapist with St. Joseph’s/Candler outpatient rehabilitation.  

“Pain can be aggravated not always by moving, but also sometimes from just sitting or lying,” Frey says.

Related Article: Quiz: Are your daily habits causing back pain?

Frey explains some of the common causes of low back:

  • Lumbar sprain/strain: A lumbar sprain or strain typically occurs when excessive stress is placed on the muscles, tendons or ligaments in the back while lifting or twisting the low back. This is usually felt directly in the lower back.
  • Disc Herniation/Protrusion: Intervertebral discs, the structures between the vertebrae which act as shock absorbers throughout your spine, can get pushed out of place or even torn, placing pressure on the nerves. This can cause pain in the low back and even down into your legs where the nerves supply sensation.
  • Degenerative changes (spondylosis): As you age, the discs between your vertebrae lose their elasticity and ability to absorb shock, decreasing their height and the space between the bones in your spine. This can make it harder to bend forward and backwards leading to overall pain just moving your back.
  • Stenosis: Stenosis is a degenerative condition more commonly occurring in older adults in which the opening in the bones of the spine narrow causing pressure and impinging the nerves/nerve roots resulting in pain. This pain can be felt not only in the low back but also down into your hips or legs, and in some cases even numbness or tingling.
  • Sciatica: Sciatica is commonly felt as pain shooting from the low back down to the back of the leg, sometimes even as far down into the foot. Sciatica is a compression of the large nerve leaving the low back commonly due to either arthritic changes in the vertebrae or a disc protruding into the nerve root space.

Related Article: Experiencing shooting pain from your back to your feet? You’re not alone.

Treatment options

Low back pain doesn’t have to be ignored or tolerated. There are several treatment options available ranging from rest to medication to physical therapy.

“Physical therapy is a non-invasive option for treatment of low back pain which can help not only decrease pain but also target the cause of your pain,” Frey says. “In physical therapy, movement is medicine.”

St. Joseph’s/Candler has six outpatient rehabilitation centers with physical therapists that are knowledgeable and experienced in treating many cause of low back pain. Your first visit includes a full examination so the therapist can determine an individualized treatment plan to address the source of pain. This plan typically includes:

  • Therapeutic exercise targeted to improve your mobility and flexibility, increase your core and/or hip strength based on examination findings.
  • Therapeutic activity training focuses on modifying any potentially harmful movement patterns or habits, such as lifting techniques, to decrease pain during the action and prevent further injury.
  • Manual techniques, such as soft tissue mobilization or joint mobilization techniques, promote relaxation, increase mobility and decrease pain.
  • Modalities are passive techniques, such as the use of heat/cold with or without electrical stimulation, also help decrease pain.
  • Educate you on the cause of your pain, anything you should avoid or modify, safe return to activity and how to help manage your pain if it were to return.

“As physical therapists, we don’t just look at your pain but also at you as a whole person and how your symptoms are affecting your everyday life and provide the individualized care you need,” Frey says. “Don’t let low back pain limit you from doing the things you love.”

Related Article: The dos and don’ts when dealing with back pain

A physician’s referral is required to see a physical therapist. Talk to your doctor to see if physical therapy is right for you.

Learn more about St. Joseph’s/Candler Outpatient Rehabilitation and find a location near you on our website

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