What to Expect During Physical Therapy for Lower Back Pain

man in physical therapy for low back pain
Most Americans experience lower back pain at some time in their lives. This frustrating and painful condition leads to more work absenteeism and lost productivity than any other physical cause and is one of the most common reasons that people seek medical treatment. Although doctors often suggest over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs to ease back pain, these medications all carry risks. A less invasive alternative is physical therapy (PT).

The American College of Physicians (ACP) is the largest medical-specialty society in the world. The organization’s 2017 guidelines advocate a non-invasive, non-pharmacologic approach for the treatment of acute, subacute, and chronic low back pain as first-line options.

The ACP recommends therapies administered by professionally trained physical therapists, including spinal manipulation, exercise, massage, and superficial heat, prior to resorting to pain-relieving drugs.

Here’s what to expect if you choose physical therapy for your lower back pain.

Your Initial Visit

At MOTION PT Group, we understand the devastating effects pain can have on your daily life. We empathize with the physical and mental toll pain exacts on you, your work, and your loved ones. That’s why we’re dedicated to helping you achieve long-term relief, so you can get back to enjoying your life.

Our licensed therapists treat clients of all ages, either in our state-of-the-art clinics or via telehealth visits. Our compassionate, highly trained staff includes physical, occupational, hand, and work injury therapy specialists.

As you prepare for your visit, jot down detailed notes about your symptoms, including anything that worsens or relieves the pain, and bring those your notes to the session. During your visit, your therapist will ask you to move around in order to assess certain functions, so dress comfortably. Throughout this and every visit, we encourage you to ask questions and provide feedback.

During your first visit, our goal is to identify the probable cause of your lower back pain and whether that pain is acute or chronic. To accomplish this goal, we will conduct some or all of the following steps:

  • An in-depth review of your medical history
  • A thorough evaluation of your symptoms
  • An assessment of your range of motion and strength
  • An analysis of your gait and posture

Our licensed therapists are trained to conduct a thorough clinical exam. If we encounter any indication that you may need advanced diagnostic tests, we will refer you for those tests.

Physical Therapy Treatment Plan for Lower Back Pain

To develop a physical therapy treatment plan that specifically addresses your needs, we carefully evaluate your medical history, test results, and any additional information that you have provided.

Our goal for your physical therapy visits

We believe that physical therapy can make a positive impact on your life, especially if you are dealing with a condition like lower back pain. Our goals for your time with us include:

  • Decreasing pain
  • Increasing function
  • Teaching you how to keep your back healthy long-term

Physical therapy sessions

Each MOTION appointment lasts 40 minutes, which is longer than a typical PT session. Longer sessions allow our therapists to provide more one-on-one time with each client.

Modalities that your physical therapist may use to treat your lower back pain include:

  • Hot or cold packs (for acute pain)
  • Transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS), a therapy that uses mild electrical waves to help muscles and nerves recover
  • Spinal manipulation to relieve pain and improve spinal mobility
  • Exercises to strengthen your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles (core) to better support your back, relieve pain, and improve movement
  • Exercises to strengthen abdominal, gluteal, and quadriceps muscles (flexion exercises) to decrease stress on the lower back
  • Stretching exercises to improve range of motion and mobility
  • Low-impact aerobic exercises (stationary bike, treadmill, bicycling, water therapy) to increase endurance

Your therapist will teach proper body posture techniques for sitting, standing, and lifting that reduce the likelihood of back strain or injury. You will also learn specific exercises to do at home. Regularly performing these recommended home exercises can help your back muscles strengthen more quickly.

Why physical therapy?

Physical therapy can be a holistic alternative to surgery, medication, and other treatment methods, especially if you’re experiencing lower back pain for the first time.

A study published in December 2018 in the journal Health Services Research found that starting physical therapy as a first step after experiencing acute low back pain decreases the long-term need for surgery or medications.

Dr. Steven George, director of musculoskeletal research at Duke Clinical Research Institute and a physical therapist, found that both the CDC and the American College of Physicians recommend early non-drug options for patients with musculoskeletal pain. In a research paper he co-authored, George noted that “early physical therapy could lead to fewer pain patients becoming dependent on opioids.”

MOTION PT Group

Since 2015, MOTION has provided transformative physical and occupational therapy services to clients of all ages. At MOTION, our mission is to improve the lives of every client as we help them get back to what moves them. Guided by our values of compassion, empowerment, integrity, and teamwork, we promise to remain committed to each and every patient.

Contact us today to schedule an in-clinic or telehealth appointment.