Back pain is something that affects almost everyone at some time or other, and there are several ways of treating it. Physical therapy is one of the most frequently used approaches, and here are some of its advantages. A physical therapist will have studied anatomy, gaining particularly expert knowledge of the skeleton and muscles. They see the body as a machine and they understand how a weakness or malfunction in one area can have a knock-on effect elsewhere. If you have pulled a muscle, for instance, the body will try to achieve what that muscle normally does by using other muscles or altering the positioning of the components of your machine. That creates unnatural conditions and puts strain on other parts.
A physical therapist is concerned with how you walk, run, lift, reach and grasp, and as anyone who has ever had back pain will know, it impacts on so many other aspects of movement. Things that you never thought had anything to do with your spine are suddenly revealed as all being part of the same repertoire: your back makes anything from significant changes of shape to infinitesimal movements, depending on what you’re trying to do.
Physical therapists use their hands a lot, because hands are tools for both diagnostics and treatment. Often a physical therapist can feel the problem through their fingers and that makes it easier to treat, because they know what they’re dealing with. There is an element of massage, too, increasing blood flow where necessary and generally getting bodily functions performing better.
While the physical therapist’s body can help to fix yours, they don’t dismiss technological advances that can help. Physical therapy can involve ultrasound, for instance, which can reach parts that hands can’t. High-frequency (ultra) sound waves can work on deep tissue injuries by giving a boost to blood circulation, reducing pain and spasms, and making the healing process quicker.
Advice and coaching: what caused the back pain and how can you stop it happening again?
The first thing a physical therapist will consider is: how and why did this happen? Back pain can have a directly-attributable cause: a sports injury, a stumble and fall (AKA just one of those things), or disturbing the balance of the body through a one-off event or activity, for example. It can also be caused by something you do all the time, such as lazy posture or bad lifting techniques.
What nobody wants is to fix the problem, only for it to happen again, so analysis and education are vitally important. Often it will be simple advice such as keeping your back straight and bending your knees to use your legs as levers when lifting. Keeping your body in alignment is key. When you’re reaching for something in the corner at the back of the top shelf, use a step and get right in front of whatever it is you’re looking for – that sort of thing. If you’re doing some DIY or maintenance: don’t try to insert a screw that’s above your head or involves contorting your body, A physical therapist is an adviser as well as a healer.
They will tell you how you can protect yourself from further problems of this sort and others, give you exercise programs to build up fitness and mobility and tell you what not to do, too. So, look out, back pain: physical therapy’s got your number.