It is estimated that 80% of the population experiences low back pain at least once throughout their lifetime. Fifty percent of the working population admit to experiencing low back pain each year. Each year 15-20% of the people in the United States have complaints of low back pain. Millions of workers suffer on the job injuries annually which costs 100 billion dollars in lost wages, time, and productivity and medical costs. While low back pain is a very common problem, most people have little understanding about how they developed pain in the first place, or how best to treat their symptoms.
Back pain can occur for many reasons, however, most often it is related to excessive load (strain) on the structures of the spine including muscles, ligaments, discs, and joints resulting from poor posture, weakness, or poor movement patterns. Typical symptoms can range from a mild ache across the lower back to severe sharp shooting pains that can be debilitating and restrict you from normal everyday activities. The most common low back conditions that we see here at Mass Bay Spine & Sport Physical Therapy are:
When the muscles and ligaments of the spine are stretched or loaded excessively, damage to those structures can occur causing a multitude of symptoms. Most often, acute low back pain is the primary symptom, however, it is also common to experience muscle spasms and limited trunk mobility due to pain. Strains can be caused by extreme exertion, heavy lifting, repetitive motions (bending/lifting), and falls.
Our Physical Therapists can assist with pain management in the early phases of low back strain using various modalities (heat/cold/electrical stimulation) combined with manual treatment and exercises designed to reduce pain and restore mobility. As symptoms improve, a comprehensive strengthening program implemented to restore proper support for the structures of the spine and decreasing risk of future injury.
The vertebrae in your spine are separated by “spacers” called intervertebral discs. These discs are made up of a thick, dense cartilage casing with an inner jelly-like center and are designed to allow for movement as well as shock absorption in the spine. Sometimes weakness in the outer casing can tear allowing the inner gel to herniate out and press on surrounding structures including the spinal nerves.
Symptoms often include significant low back pain as well as neurological symptoms including tingling/numbness down one or both legs, muscle weakness in the legs, and acute muscle spasms.
It is important to note that Disc herniations are fairly common and in many cases, do not require surgery. Physical therapy is an effective treatment option and can reduce the need for medications and more invasive procedures like surgery and cortisone injections.
Sciatica refers to irritation of the Sciatic nerve which is made up of a bundle of several nerve roots from the lower lumbar spine and travels down the back of the hip/thigh/lower leg. Sciatica is actually a symptom that can be caused by several different conditions including disc herniation, bone spurs in the spine, and acute muscle spasm in the low back/buttock region.
Common symptoms include low back pain, pain in the buttock region/posterior thigh and lower leg, burning/tingling down the back of the leg and sometimes muscle weakness. Symptoms tend to be worse with sitting and forward bending and they also tend to occur on only one side.
A comprehensive physical therapy evaluation can be instrumental in helping to determine the cause of Sciatica symptoms, allowing for a treatment plan specifically designed to address those factors and resolve pain/return to normal activity.
Spinal stenosis is a condition involving narrowing of the spaces in your spine which can cause compression on the spinal cord/nerve roots. Symptoms often include low back pain and a diffuse radiation of pain into the buttocks and thighs. Tingling and numbness and leg weakness may be present as well.
Symptoms are often worse with standing, walking, and backward bending/extension of the spine. Sitting, forward bending, and unweighting of the body often provide relief. One of the hallmark signs of lumbar spinal stenosis is a decreased walking tolerance.
Spondylosis is degenerative arthritis of the spine and is not always symptomatic. However, when symptoms are present and do not resolve quickly on their own, Physical therapy can be an excellent option for treatment to resolve acute symptoms and helping to minimize future flare-ups.
Our expert therapists are adept at identifying the root cause of your symptoms through a comprehensive evaluation and establishing a treatment plan that will quickly and effectively help you to resolve your symptoms and return to the activities most important to you. You will be active in your recovery and will be given the knowledge and techniques to help prevent future occurrences. If you are experiencing any of these problems, give us a call today to find out how we can help you get back to living pain-free again!
Do I need surgery?
People can often suffer debilitating injury or acute bouts of low back pain, however, in most cases, surgery is not necessary. Physical therapy can be highly effective in addressing the underlying causes of low back pain, helping you to reduce symptoms, restore your mobility, and build strength to support your spine and reduce the likelihood of future occurrences. Our physical therapists are highly trained in educating patients on proper body mechanics and movement patterns to avoid future injury as well.
Do I need an MRI?
This is a very common question we hear. An MRI can be helpful in allowing us to see potential structures in the spine that may be causing your symptoms, but it is an expensive test that in many cases, confirms what was already determined through a comprehensive history and evaluation and is often not needed to effectively treat your condition. Our physical therapists are trained in identifying red flags that might suggest an MRI is necessary before proceeding with treatment, however, in most situations MRIs are not needed. We will also consult with your physician if there is any question an MRI might be indicated.
How can I relieve my low back pain?
Our first goal for many patients is to help alleviate their pain. This is achieved through a combination of therapeutic modalities, manual treatments, and therapeutic exercises to reduce inflammation, muscle spasms, and overall pain. As symptoms improve your physical therapist will help you to restore your normal mobility by implementing a stretching and strengthening program to provide better support to the structures of your spine as well as extensive education on posture and body mechanics to help avoid future injury.