Low Back Pain: Your Questions Answered

If you have experienced lower back pain, don’t worry, you’re not alone.  Nearly 80 percent of adults have, or will have, suffered from it at some point in their lives. It’s the most common cause of job-related disability, a leading contributor to missed work days.  Physical Therapists treat this diagnosis more frequently than any other. For that reason, we’re here to answer your questions, inform you, about the research and maybe even bust some myths.  Did you know that Physical Therapy (PT) is one of the most economical, safe, and effective ways to treat most cases of lower back pain?


Should I see my doctor for lower back pain?

It is more effective to see a physical therapist first!  Usually, our findings are routine and point to a typical pattern of pain. In that case, we prescribe a home exercise program to do in conjunction with your physical therapy treatments. If we find a reason for you to see your doctor, we will tell you.

Do I need prescription medications for lower back pain?

It’s important to note that there are no medications that fix lower back pain, only minimize symptoms.

The most common medications prescribed for lower back pain are Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) and muscle relaxants. NSAIDS can take the edge off. Muscle relaxants help during a gripping muscle spasm, but they make you drowsy. Therefore, most people can only take them at night.

Sometimes, a course of oral steroids is sometimes prescribed when there is pain, numbness and tingling going down the leg. If steroids are prescribed to you, they should be started while you are undergoing physical therapy. Short-term steroids weaken your immune system and come with these side effects: irritability, trouble sleeping, restlessness, weight gain, thinning skin and more.

Should I have imaging for lower back pain? THE most common question we hear

The short answer, NO!  Imaging won’t provide information that will change the course of your treatment. Plus, it increases the over-all cost of treatment and exposes you to unnecessary radiation.  Many people have degenerative changes in their spine but have no symptoms. As a result, finding something like this makes you worry and feel old or broken.

Imaging for lower back pain can be worse than useless because it can send you down a path of trying to fix something that may have nothing to do with the pain you’re experiencing.

How can we fix lower back pain if we don’t know exactly what’s wrong?

Humans are complex machines. If we were robots we could run some diagnostics, switch out parts and be good as new. Back pain is a symptom that can get better even if we don’t know the exact cause. As a human, every—single—thing about you is unique. Your DNA, life experiences, daily activities, diet, exercise, posture, mental outlook, over-all health all feed into how you experience pain. A picture of your spine isn’t sophisticated enough to reveal all of your unique characteristics.

Which exercises, or activities should I avoid with lower back pain?

The only uniformly recommended treatment for lower back pain in the literature is exercise and activity.   However, it’s good to modify activities that increase pain. Ideally, the exercises your physical therapist prescribes should be pain-free or not increase your baseline level of pain. Sometimes, it isn’t the activity that’s the problem, but the way that you’re performing it. Physical therapists are experts at teaching correct posture, body mechanics and lifting mechanics.

Which exercises or activities are best for low back pain?

Movement is the best medicine for lower back pain. However, we can’t say uniformly that all patients should participate in certain exercises. We commonly recommend yoga or Pilates to our patients, although the research isn’t conclusive. This is likely due to our uniqueness.

Physical therapists are uniquely trained to examine anatomic and physiologic variations. Therefore, we’re distinctively qualified to recommend exercises and activities that work best for your body, lifestyle and preferences.

Will lower back pain come back?

A recurrence in the first year after an episode can happen, but the patients who actively participate in therapy (do their home exercise program)are much less likely to experience a recurrence!  Those that see healthcare as a passive experience (i.e. you fix me) tend to experience higher rates of recurrence. Similarly, patients often stop therapy after getting pain-relief from a few sessions of PT. Unfortunately, the problem hasn’t magically gone away, and odds are the pain will return within the year.

There you have it!  Physical Therapy is one of the most economical, safe, and effective ways to treat most cases of lower back pain.  Physical therapists are specialists in movement and want to return you back to life!  Do you need help with your low back pain?  Call us to schedule your FREE consultation!



Andrew Vertson