Ten to twenty years ago a person experiencing back pain would most commonly be advised bed rest and immobilization of the back. Research within the past 10 years has shown that inactivity weakens the muscles that support the spine and, if continued too long, can prolong recovery or even make certain conditions worse.
Exercise, on the other hand, increases muscle flexibility and strength and promotes healing by increasing blood flow to the injured site. Healthy muscles provide protection to bones and joints.
While back pain sufferers should always check with their doctor concerning the appropriate approach to treat their condition, many will be referred to a physical therapist. The role of the physical therapist in providing pain relief, rehabilitation and education is often critical to a successful recovery.
There are several mechanical methods that physical therapists use to relieve pain, such as applying ice/heat packs, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation. In addition to exercise, some manual therapy techniques are massage and mobilization.
Pain is also relieved through active techniques and exercise therapy – exercises that stretch the sore muscles and increase their flexibility. Two common methods of exercise that provide pain relief include:
- The approach to back exercises was developed specifically to centralize and relieve back related pain symptoms
- Dynamic lumbar stabilization exercises control pain by reducing motion at the injury location. This technique involves training muscles to automatically provide protective support during activity.
Terapeutic exercise therapy involves evaluation of an individual’s movement, physical capabilities, body type, and activity level in order to prescribe exercise and other physical means to help improve function. For certain conditions and diagnoses, a well-trained physical therapist will develop a customized exercise program based on research of the most effective spine exercises. The exercise program’s pacing, specific exercises, and amount of practice with the physical therapist will vary depending on the condition and the individual’s needs.
Developing the right exercise for the individual sometimes requires trial and error, reviewing the person’s response to the exercise, and adjusting the exercise accordingly.
The proper exercise technique allows the patient to isolate the desired muscle/muscle group that increases the effectiveness of an exercise. A physical therapist will instruct a patient on the proper technique for performing each exercise in the individualized exercise program. Physical therapists strive to continually improve their exercise techniques, learning new ones as they come out, and scrutinizing new fads. The therapist will also cover posture and movement exercises, suggesting improvements for the patient that will provide added protection for the spine.