Physical Therapy for Back Pain

Back pain is primarily minimalized or eliminated through Physical Therapy (PT) interventions. PT for Back pain aims to reduce stiffness in lower muscles and promote mobility.

A therapist may focus on treating back pain with either passive or active therapy, using manual therapies, heat/ice packs, electrical stimulation or dry needling. The most prescribed active physical therapy interventions for back pain include stretching and range of motion exercises and pain relief exercises. Different PT interventions treat back pain though reducing pain level (by targeting the associated muscles), relaxing the affected lower back muscles and boosting pain perception so that an individual has better ability to deal with it.

How does physical therapy for back pain work?

If an episode of low back pain has lasted between two and six weeks, Physical therapy would be strongly recommended. Some spine specialists prefer prescribing PT sooner if a frequent recurrence of severe, low back pain is observed. To reduce the pain to a manageable level, a back pain therapy program usually includes active exercises or passive PT modalities (heat/ice packs, TENS units, iontophoresis).

The therapist should conduct a history and physical examination to place patients into one of the following categories:

  • Nonspecific low back pain
  • Back Pain due to Radiculopathy or Spinal Stenosis
  • Back Pain caused by a non-spinal source
  • Back Pain due to another specific spinal cause

Since most patients with chronic low back pain rarely benefit from surgery, a physical therapy program should be designed to treat functional disabilities caused by the back pain. Acupuncture, massage therapy and spinal manipulation along with PT often help in speedy pain relief.  

Commonly prescribed exercises for back pain

Along with passive therapies, active Physical Therapy, including hamstring stretching exercises should be part of a person’s daily routine. Specific abdominal strengthening, such as Sit-Ups, Crunches, and Leg Raises strengthen the abdominal muscles and lower back muscles (erector spinae) to provide the ‘belt of muscle’ around the spine. Other prescribed lower back exercises (hyperextensions) can be performed to ‘hyperextend’ the spine.

To strengthen the back muscles, 15 to 20 minutes of dynamic lumbar stabilization are also suggested on alternative days. Core muscle strengthening and low impact aerobics are considered significant for reducing chronic back pain.