Category: Back Pain | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: October 26, 2015
90 percent of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives, either from an acute injury, an overworked spine or from natural degeneration. Back pain can be debilitating, and many people try to work through the pain, but new research says that might not be the wisest decision. Instead, patience and gradual therapy may be the preferred option.
Back Off Your Back Pain
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined how quickly physical therapy should begin after a back injury. For the study, researchers split 200 patients with lower back pain into two groups. One group began physical therapy right away, while the other group began physical therapy after a few weeks of rest. Patients were evaluated at the 3-month mark, and researchers discovered:
- Patients who began physical therapy right away had modest improvements in some daily activities, like sitting, standing, walking and moving objects.
- Pain levels remained the same for each group.
So while daily activities may become more manageable with physical therapy, pain levels appear to remain consistent whether the person dives right into PT or they rest their backs for a few weeks.
“The average amount of improvement over 100 patients was small, but within that group, there were certainly patients that experienced large improvement and then others who didn’t receive much benefit at all,” said lead author Julie Fritz.
Fritz said that the back generally heals with rest and physical therapy, and it’s up to the patient how they want to proceed. Some people just want to be told there is no major issue in their back, while others want to proactively treat the pain. “That’s when physical therapy can play its most important role,” said Fritz, adding that “people who feel that they’re being treated and cared for will improve a bit more rapidly regardless of what’s actually being provided to them.”
How We Treat Back Pain
Any good spine specialist won’t immediately recommend an MRI and surgery when the described symptoms are routine. Oftentimes treatments for minor aches and pains involve rest, physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications. Starting physical therapy is key to strengthening your back, but like any rehab, you don’t want to overdo it early.
Patients can often get caught in a pain cycle, where they suffer an injury, rest and rehab for a few days, return to normal activity and then re-injure their back because they weren’t fully healed. This can lead to more visits to your doctor, more tests, and more expenses. Patients need to fully commit to their rehab, give it plenty of time before returning to strenuous activity, and stop activity if they feel pain. Your back is prone to re-injury if you push it too soon after an initial injury.
Obviously not all back injuries are minor, but extreme issues like herniated discs or spine tumors aren’t as common as a pulled muscle or a pinched nerve. We can certainly help rule those conditions out, but more often than not, the best way to treat your back pain is through rest, committed physical therapy and over-the-counter pain medications.