Physical therapy involves working with a physical therapist who is trained to carry out your doctor's orders to stretch, strengthen, and exercise your back in a safe and effective way. It is important that physical therapy be coupled with education, so you can be empowered to take charge of your own recovery and move forward in your journey.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Physical therapists are trained to give instruction on posture, educate about basic anatomy and physiology, and instruct people in body mechanics, stretching, strengthening, and conditioning exercises. A physical therapist also works with your physician to determine if other types of non-surgical treatments including ultrasound, heat, diathermy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), electrical stimulation, hydrotherapy, massage, or spinal manipulation may be right for you.

What Should I Expect When Visiting a Physical Therapist?

Your physical therapist will do an evaluation and determine if there are any joint limitations or muscle weakness, as well as pinpoint the pain distribution in your back. Heat/cold therapy and massage, as well as ultrasound, may be used to ease back pain, but these are no longer the mainstays of treatment. These types of treatments—called modalities by physical therapists—demand little from the patient and may feel good at the time, but the pain relief produced by them is often only temporary.

More recently, physical therapists have been using physical activity as part of treatment. This may cause minor pain at the beginning of the course of therapy, but it has longer-lasting effects—strengthening the back and relieving pain in the long run.

Physical therapists who use movement, back pain exercises, strengthening and conditioning, and who encourage gradual increase in activity, are usually most successful.