There’s a new study out and its findings are important. A recent study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute looked at the impact of beginning physical therapy only days, rather than weeks, after suffering a lower back injury. Researchers found that early physical therapy led to better outcomes.
Why is that important and what does that mean for you? For years, there has been a debate about whether or not beginning physical therapy early on to deal with low back pain, regardless of whether or not the back pain is from an injury, makes a difference. While this study says “yes” to early physical therapy, it doesn’t mean the debate is over. However, it does add to the fact that there is a growing trend in back pain treatment guidelines for medical professionals treating people like you or someone you care about who has problems with low back pain. More doctors are now looking at other options beyond medications and surgery to give people relief.
Let’s not forget that your problem or your loved one’s or friend’s problem requires evaluation by a medical professional to determine the right course of action based on the total medical picture and the nature of the low back problem. As I often tell you when we’re visiting here in the Coastal Point, there is no one-size-fits-all plan.
What does seem to be universal is that anyone who has or has ever had a problem with low back pain will tell you is that it’s not pleasant. It can make the simplest daily routine like getting out a chair or even walking across a room painful and it can turn your life upside down. Since more than 80 percent of people experience low back pain at some during their lives, getting help right away is important.
So, what are you going to do? I know I keep telling you this, but I can’t say it enough. Do not self-diagnose. If you are experiencing low back pain, it’s time to make an appointment to see a doctor. Keep the basics in mind. Remember to prepare for the doctor’s visit by writing down as much information as possible to help you be thorough. Tell your doctor when the pain began, what the pain feels like and whether or not you were injured in any manner that may be the cause of your pain. Write down any changes to your health, any conditions you have and share any medications and supplements you may take and the dosages of each. Did you have a back injury in the past? Have you had back pain problems over the years? Did you see a doctor for your back pain in the past and if you did what happened? All this information is very important in creating a treatment plan.
Expect that your doctor will ask you a number of questions and perform a thorough physical exam to determine what exactly is causing your low back pain. Then, it’s up to you and your doctor to have a detailed conversation to explore your options to find the solution that can give you relief.
If your doctor does send you to a physical therapist, your visit is likely going to start with a thorough evaluation and a conversation. I know that here at Tidewater, our partnership will begin with an in-depth discussion so that I can understand your personal situation and you will understand what I am doing to do to help you get your best outcome.
There can be a variety of elements to the plan depending on the root cause of your low back pain. Sometimes, depending on your physical situation and needs, your program might begin with riding a stationary bike or doing some walking on a treadmill or even both. The idea behind this is to start building your endurance and strength. There might also be hands on manipulation along with core strengthening exercises. These types of exercises typically involve the muscles in the area around your abdomen and pelvic floor. They’re the reason behind the term core exercises. They play a key role in providing support and stability for the lower part of your back. You may also be given exercises involving your quadriceps, a group of muscles that are located on the front of your thighs, and gluteal muscles, located in your buttocks, to work on getting right at the strain impacting your low back. These might include knee to chest exercises, side to side bent knee rotations and some pelvic tilts.
You might also be given some homework. That’s right. Homework. It can include some exercises you can do at home. The reason behind it is maintaining continuity, which can help you to keep working on building strength in those muscles that support your back. Staying on track is really important. If you’re given exercises to do at home, your physical therapist will likely give you direction on how to do those exercises, how many repetitions and how often. It’s all part of the plan.
I also want you to pay attention to some simple things that can make a big difference. Are you wearing the right shoes? If your shoes are worn down, get a pair that gives you proper support and balance. How’s your posture? Bad posture strains your back. Are you making sure you pay attention to the surfaces you are walking on?
Do you enjoy sports like pickleball, golf, jogging or cycling? When you’re given the word that it’s okay to start up, again, keep this in mind. Always include a warm-up with stretching before you get underway. Your warm-up and stretching program should be specifically designed for your sport and should target muscles supporting back movement as well as preparing the back for the stresses it will endure. Aerobics should be part of this plan. It should help you gradually boost your circulation to the muscles and ligaments of the back through easy motions. And don’t forget the right protection. You know the old saying about an ounce of prevention. It’s true.
I wish that I could tell you that there was a magic formula that would give you instant results. We know that’s not the case, but what I can tell you is that you need to really commit to the plan that your physical therapist has created just for you. You need to do your home exercises and keep looking forward. Don’t quit on yourself. You’ve got lots more to do and having a good quality of life is what it’s all about.
Bob Cairo is a licensed physical therapist at Tidewater Physical Therapy. He can be contacted by calling (302) 537-7260.