Sage Advice: The Spine

The spine is a complicated biomechanical structure that supports the weight of the body. It allows people to bend, twist, walk and move, yet it’s one of the most abused and misunderstood areas of the body. Physical therapy provides effective methods to relieve back pain, treat injuries and maintain the spine in proper alignment.

More than 80 percent of the population will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Many injuries cause temporary pain through overuse or failure to warmup sufficiently before exercise or sports. Other sources of back pain include deformities and degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis, all of which can be alleviated with physical therapy.

Obesity and sedentary lifestyles are contributing to an increase in back pain complaints. Both are major causes of pain when individuals participate in new or unfamiliar activities, don’t prepare sufficiently for activity, or use inappropriate lifting techniques. Obesity increases the risk for poor posture and injury, and those experiencing back pain often develop awkward movement patterns that exacerbate the problem.

The Cause and the Solution

Diagnosing the cause and location of back pain can be a complicated process. Pain can be immediate, appear after rising the next morning, or cause problems weeks or months later. Pain can be sharp, dull or chronic, constant or fleeting. It can be an indication of a degenerative disease or minor injury that’s escalated in severity.

Many individuals believe the pain will go away on its own and don’t seek treatment, an approach that can result in additional damage. A person’s first reaction to pain is to limit activity, but not moving leads to further pain, stiffness and aggravates the underlying problem.

A physical therapist has the knowledge and expertise to render a diagnosis and prescribe therapies that foster safe movement without causing further pain or damage to nerves, joints and soft tissues. A physical therapist knows which methods and techniques to use for specific causes of back pain.

Fostering Straight Spines

Physical therapy offers a wide variety of therapies to treat back pain, prevent injuries and maintain a healthy spine. Proper alignment of the spine enables the body to work as it was intended and allows for a greater range of motion. Therapies are effective for existing and prior injuries, chronic disease and degenerative conditions.

We frequently use manual therapy and exercise to loosen muscles, improve flexibility and manage pain. Heat and cold, ultrasound and electrical stimulation therapies enhance mobility and relieve inflammation.

Our therapists provide patients with advice on lifestyle changes, equipment and tools that reduce the risk of injuries and footwear appropriate to specific uses. A gait assessment provides valuable information about habits and body positioning that contributes to back pain and customized orthotic devices may be prescribed. Therapists also provide information on pillows, mattresses and sleep positions that improve spinal alignment.

Gentle exercise classes and yoga are gentle and effective ways to relieve pain and maintain the spine. Our exercise programs can be combined with therapeutic massage before or after sessions to address pain and tight muscles and accelerate healing.

Physical therapists provide patients with information to address current injuries and avoid future incidents. They offer valuable education on proper lifting, moving and bending techniques.

We have multiple techniques and technology to help patients with back pain stemming from any source. Preventative therapies keep spines correctly aligned to mitigate injuries and pain, treat chronic conditions, and maintain correct posture.

Editor’s note: Stephanie Dunker, MS, PT is owner of Sage Physical Therapy & Wellness in Casabella Commons.

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