Most people with low back pain don't need surgery. If you have low back pain, physical therapy may help you get better faster. It may lessen your pain. It may also restore or improve your range of motion. It may even lower your risk of future low back problems.
Physical therapy basics
If you've had low back pain for more than four to six weeks, your doctor may recommend that you work with a physical therapist (or PT).
At your first visit, your PT will do an exam that may include:
- Reviewing your health history
- Discussing your symptoms
- Testing you for any problems you may have with movement, joint mobility, flexibility, posture and muscle strength
- Checking on how you use your body at work, at home, during sports and while relaxing
- Testing you for any signs or symptoms of serious health conditions such as broken bones or cancer
What might a physical therapy session include?
Once your exam is done, your PT will design a treatment plan for your specific back problem. This may include:
- Manual therapy to improve the mobility of joints and soft tissues
- Exercises for increasing your back's strength and flexibility
- Ice, heat or electrical stimulation treatments to help relieve pain
- Education on caring for your back, including proper sleeping positions
- Help tailoring a safe, effective exercise program for you, which will likely include home exercises
PTs can also teach you how to prevent back pain by showing you how to:
- Maintain a regular fitness routine
- Keep your body in alignment to make your movements more efficient
- Maintain good posture and body position wherever you are
- Lift properly, including when to ask for help or use an assistive device
What kind of PT do I need?
All PTs should be prepared to treat people who have low back pain. But you may want to look for one who is a board-certified clinical specialist. Or one who completed a residency in orthopedic physical therapy. Make sure that whomever you see, they are certified and have experience working with people who have low back pain.
Created on 12/15/2009
Updated on 09/06/2013
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Low back pain fact sheet.
- UpToDate. Patient information: Low back pain in adults (beyond the basics).
- American Physical Therapy Association. Move forward. Physical therapists’ guide to low back pain.