Back Pain: Your Treatment Options Will Likely Start with Physical Therapy

Back pain is one of the most common reasons for seeing a doctor.

From the most active individuals to the more sedentary, anyone can be prone to back pain from improper lifting, bad posture, aging,  or injury.

Chronic back pain more likely stems from spinal nerve, muscular and ligament problems over time, including degenerative disc disease or spinal stenosis.

Degenerative disc disease is when the discs become dehydrated and loose height, while spinal stenosis is narrowing of the open spaces within your spine which can lead to nerve pain.  Both of these processes may be encountered as the spine naturally ages.

Treating back pain can range from rest and applications of ice and heat, to a physical therapy program, interventional pain management, or surgery.

Most patients with back pain respond well to physical therapy and other non-surgical treatments.
Surgery is a big step and may be needed in cases of serious injury to the spinal cord, large disc herniations or other degenerative conditions that cause prolonged pain, neurological impairment,  and the inability to function normally. A comprehensive rehabilitation program is very important after most forms of back surgery.

But most patients with back pain will respond well to some type of physical therapy, which often involves the proper forms of exercises for the specific disorder.  However, it may involve a hands-on approach to address tightened muscles or strengthening those muscles that may be weak.  It may also involve soft tissue  massage, spinal traction and proper education in posture and mechanics of the spine.

When should you see a doctor about back pain?

“If the pain does not diminish and movement remains restricted or if there is neurological impairment, a visit to the doctor is recommended,” said Dr. Ronald Tolchin, medical director of the Baptist Center for Spine Care, part of Baptist Health’s Neuroscience Center.

Certainly, if the pain persists after traditional home-care options are exhausted, such as rest, ice/heat therapy and taking over-the-counter pain relievers, then seek medical attention. Or if the pain is associated with fever, unexplained weight loss, active history of cancer, numbness, weakness or loss of bowel or bladder control.

Your doctor may have you go through an imaging procedure, such as an Xray, CT scan or MRI, to better determine the cause of the pain.

Physical therapy is often prescribed for herniated disks or back muscle strains or Sprains.

Herniated discs are a common reason for seeking treatments. Those small, spongy discs cushion your vertebrae, somewhat like shock absorbers under your car. When a disc is damaged, it tends to bulge or break open, creating a slipped or ruptured  portion of the disc. When a herniated disc presses on nerve roots, it can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in the area of the body where the nerve travels, including the legs.

“There are a number of natural treatments for back pain that don’t involve surgery or medications, although you should always consult with your doctor before initiating any therapy,” said Dr. Dionne Casthely, member of Baptist Health Medical Group, who specializes in spine and musculoskeletal rehabilitation. “Your physician can assist in starting you on a physical therapy program.”

The bottom line: start with your doctor and a supervised program that entails the safest, most tried and effective therapies to relieve your back pain.

The Baptist Center for Spine Care is part of Baptist Health’s Neuroscience Center and offers total spine and neck programs that include diagnosis, treatment, pain management and physical rehabilitation.

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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