After an episode of low back pain has lasted between two and six weeks, or if there are frequent recurrences of low back pain, physical therapy is often recommended. Some spine specialists consider physical therapy sooner, particularly if the pain is severe.
Read more: Exercise and Back Pain
In general, the goals of physical therapy are to decrease pain, increase function, and provide education on a maintenance program to prevent further recurrences.
A physical therapy program for back pain usually has two components:
- Passive physical therapy to help reduce the patient's pain to a more manageable level
- Active exercises
Passive Physical Therapy - Modalities
Acutely, the physical therapist may focus on decreasing pain with passive physical therapy (modalities). These therapies are considered passive because they are done to the patient. Examples of modalities include:
- Heat/ice packs
- TENS units
Active Physical Therapy - Back Pain Exercises
In addition to passive therapies, active physical therapy (exercise) is also necessary to rehabilitate the spine. Generally, a patient's back exercise program should encompass a combination of the following:
Stretching for back pain exercises
Almost every individual who has suffered from low back pain should stretch their hamstring muscles once or twice daily. Simple hamstring stretching does not take much time, although it can be difficult to remember, especially if there is little or no pain. Therefore, hamstring stretching exercises are best done at the same time every day so it becomes part of a person's daily routine. There are many more stretches that can be done to alleviate lower back pain.
Strengthening for back pain exercise
To strengthen the back muscles, 15 to 20 minutes of dynamic lumbar stabilization or other prescribed exercises should be done every other day. Core muscle strengthening is also important in lower back pain treatment. It is important to perform the exercises correctly in order to see benefits, so they are best learned with the help of a physical therapist or other qualified health professional.
Low-impact aerobic conditioning
Low impact aerobics are important for long term pain reduction. There are many options available, such as walking, bicycling swimming or water therapy. Aerobic exercise of often best done for 30 to 40 minutes three times weekly, on alternate days from the strengthening exercises.
Even patients with a very busy schedule should be able to maintain a moderate back pain exercise regimen that encompasses stretching, strengthening, and aerobic conditioning. These exercises suffice as physical therapy for back pain relief.