Low Back Pain: A Physical Therapist Can Help

Low Back PainIt’s likely that you are among the 80% of adults who have experienced low back pain.

Some of our patients describe the experience as “my back went out” and report that initially they could not stand upright.

For others, the pain is not quite as intense but certain movements make them hurt.

People will tell us that lifting or bending causes pain.

In most cases,  the back pain is due to a mechanical cause. A muscle or vertebra or disk has shifted or gotten too loose or  tight and that is the underlying reason for the pain.

During a physical therapy evaluation or exam, the physical therapist asks questions about the origin of the pain. The patient is taken through a series of movement tests to identify what may be causing the issue and to be certain that the pain is not the result of a non musculoskeletal problem (like referral from the kidney).

The evaluation is modified based on the intensity of the symptoms experienced by a person.

The physical therapist makes notes about muscles that are tight or weak,  posture and alignment, whether the vertebrae are stiff or unstable, and the patient’s overall patterns of movement.

This information is what the physical therapist uses to determine how to treat the patient since each situation is unique. Options include manual therapy like soft tissue work (massage or assisted stretching) and joint mobilizations, postural corrections, specific exercises, and often ice or heat and electrical stimulation to promote muscle relaxation.

Research shows that in most cases the sooner a person with low back pain seeks the help of a physical therapist, the quicker he or she gets relief.

An obvious goal of a physical therapist is to help prevent the reccurrence of back pain by teaching people how to move, lift, and stretch correctly. This often involves body mechanics training for lifting things like groceries, laundry baskets and kids.  Patients are taught to activate their core muscles for every day activities, not just as an exercise to strengthen abdominal muscles.

Low back pain can usually be improved if not eliminated completely.  The key is identifying the underlying cause, correcting that dysfunction, and modifying behaviors in daily life or at work that may be perpetuating the problem.


This physical therapy educational piece was provided by Karen Kovacs, the Clinical Director of Tidewater Physical Therapy’s Gloucester Point location.