Over 80% of the adult population will experience back pain in their lifetime, and estimated losses in productivity and costs among working Americans is in the billions of dollars each year. There is good news, though! Acute episodes are often short-lived and frequently resolve rapidly. However, a call to a physical therapist can get you “back on track” to living your life even more quickly!
Physical therapists are the musculoskeletal experts in today’s health care, with advanced degrees and specialized training years in the making. A recent study showed that PT’s are better at identifying musculoskeletal conditions than nearly every other type of medical provider. By performing a thorough evaluation – including discussion of your medical history, the current condition, an in-depth clinical examination in which he or she will assess your posture, movement, gait, strength, neurological signs, and how you respond to changes in movement and testing procedures – they will identify what is likely contributing to the issue and develop an appropriate plan of care to address it. During this visit, you will move and they may move you as well. You may complete a questionnaire to help them determine your current functional level, called an Outcomes Assessment. They will teach you about your body and how simple things you do can have a big impact in recovery. You will have an active home program assigned to optimize the potential for improvement. Treatment of back pain used to include bedrest or medications as the first line of treatment. We now know better. Early movement in the right directions and following the right path contributes to a better outcome.
Individualization of your treatment program is where physical therapists really shine. Determining the best plan of care for YOU takes a lot of skill. Your PT will identify the ways that YOU need to move to help address YOUR symptoms and findings. You will not be handed a piece of paper with some generic stretches. You will not find your program in a generic video online. Your program developed by your physical therapist is for YOU. And by giving you the tools to manage your health and help you improve, it saves you money because you now have strategies to help control pain and restore movement should it occur again. You don’t need to rely on someone to do something to you or for you. You are in the driver’s seat!
Most importantly, during your initial visit, you will be asked about your goals for treatment. What are YOU hoping to accomplish? Of course, everyone want the pain to be gone. But… if the pain was better, what functional activities in your life would be easier? What would you do that you cannot do now? Restoring function is what physical therapists do. They help you return to functioning in your everyday life. Even if your pain is not entirely abolished, you will learn strategies and modifications to help you live a full and productive life. And if your problem continues to be troublesome, despite the best efforts, they will refer you to another health care provider for a new avenue of treatment consideration.
Many things can cause back pain, but oftentimes, it is what is called “non-specific” or common back pain. Lots of us have experienced that sudden twist, have done too much yardwork, have bent down to pick up a sock, or sat too long on a road trip that has triggered an episode of pain. More serious things can cause back pain as well, but those are rare. Those things can include infection, tumors, or fractures. A physical therapist is trained to identify risk factors and considerations where those serious pathologies could be present and is required to refer you for further evaluation by your medical provider should they suspect anything like that.
Chronic back pain can also be helped with physical therapy. More and more studies are showing that use of properly identified therapeutic exercise with a skilled physical therapist is as effective as many other interventions for improving pain, function, and quality of life. Costs of seeking care with a physical therapist are also significantly less than many other avenues.
Many states and insurance carriers allow you to see a physical therapist without spending time waiting for a referral from someone else, and many physical therapy offices have same day services available. What are you waiting for? Contact a physical therapist about back pain today!