Why physical therapy?

If you have back pain, you may benefit from physical therapy, a well-established method for treating all types of back conditions.  Using techniques such as therapeutic exercise, functional training, mobilization/manipulation, massage, electrotherapy and ultrasound, physical therapists help restore function, reduce pain and prevent disability.

When should you see a physical therapist for back pain?

If you have back pain that interferes with normal activities and doesn’t improve by taking pain relievers and limiting stressful activities, you may want to consult a physical therapist.  The sooner you get treatment, the better the outcome.  Starting therapy as early as two weeks after   pain begins can relieve discomfort and improve functioning.

The physical therapist you consult with should have the proper credentials to practice.  All licensed physical therapists have completed an accredited graduate program and have passed a national exam.

What types of back problems are treated by physical therapy?

Physical therapy can treat any type of back pain that may be caused by muscle strain, injury, joint problems such as arthritis, or disk issues.  Physical therapists often see people whose back pain results from jobs that require sitting at a desk or repetitive activities.

More serious back conditions that are due to degenerative disks, severe arthritis or major injuries, may require rehabilitation to restore the normal functioning of muscles and maximize the patient’s ability to perform everyday activities.  Rehabilitation addresses pain, mobility, strength, alignment and posture.

How do physical therapists treat back problems?

A physical therapist will begin by reviewing your medical history, then evaluate your condition by testing and measuring your strength, range of motion, balance and coordination, posture, muscle performance, breathing and motor function.  They may use hands-on techniques such as manipulation and massage to ease pain and promote motion in muscles and joints.  During the course of treatment, the physical therapist will periodically check your progress and adjust your treatment plan if needed.

People often think that physical therapy is mostly performed by the physical therapist, but patients play an active role in their treatment.  Exercise is an essential element in physical therapy; you’ll get the best results by following the exercise plan developed for your individual needs.  Strengthening the muscles in the abdomen and back that support the trunk can ease pressure on the bones and muscles and prevent injury.  Treatment may also include body mechanics training that correct poor posture and improper habits.

Other activities recommended by physical therapists for people with back conditions are aquatherapy, in which exercises are performed in a pool; elliptical bikes, which involve repetitive motion with less back stress; and simple walking, which is very beneficial to the back.


American Physical Therapy Association (2008). Discovering physical therapy. Retrieved on 10/29/2015 from http://www.apta.org