Is the source of your low back pain a mystery? You’re not alone: Nine out of 10 patients don’t know the primary cause of their back pain. The problem is that most people seek treatment after they’ve begun exhibiting symptoms of back pain … so physical therapists end up having to play catch-up with a myriad of symptoms that have developed chronically and as a result and compensation of the patient waiting for the pain to resolve. While waiting for symptoms to resolve on their own may seem logical at first, I’m here to tell you that there’s a better way to treat your back pain.
The key is to go to a physical therapist before you begin to see the signs and symptoms of back pain. Physical therapists are trained to recognize the physical dysfunctions that may one day lead to back pain. Countless times we have treated a patient for a small benign problem, only to notice that their postural habits need improving. Our patient ends up leaving us with their initial injury healed and armed with exercises, stretches and knowledge on how to keep their spine working well for them. However there’s no need to wait for an initial injury to occur – oftentimes it is actually best for a PT checkup and an ergonomic exam. Seeing a physical therapist on an annual basis is one of the most effective ways to prevent back pain from occurring in the first place. Doesn’t that sound like the better alternative than to wait 4 months while your back pain grows in intensity to the point of needing to see a physician, then get meds, then get physical therapy?
On your first appointment for an annual PT exam, your physical therapist will collect a complete picture of your medical history. This is done through a subjective exam about your previous injuries, aches and pains. Then an objective exam on your strength, flexibility, posture and biomechanics while you are doing your most common activities. Your physical therapist will perform an examination using a variety of tests and measures including a movement screen. A movement screen is a screening tool that’s designed to identify imbalances in your mobility and stability that may contribute to limited function or other impairments. Additionally, simulations using chairs, desks, boxes and weights are made to mimic your activities. This all gives your PT the ability to see how your back, hips, core, shoulders, knees and ankles perform during a series of carefully selected exercises.
The information gathered during an examination helps your physical therapist to identify changes from one year to the next, a critical step in assessing your risk for back pain and a host of other debilitating conditions. If a problem is identified early enough, then your physical therapist is better equipped to discuss preventive measures instead of needing to triage back pain.
Eight out of ten Americans suffer from low back pain at some point in their lives, don’t let yourself be another statistic. Take charge on your health today and ask how you can improve your back health.
Doctor of Physical Therapy, Director at Stride Strong Physical Therapy