A recent article in the Huffington Post titled “Doctors Have Been Treating Lower Back Pain All Wrong,” revealed what we’ve known all along: physical therapy is a solid solution for patients with low back pain. In fact, physical therapy and other alternative treatments are being pushed as the first-line of defense before invasive and costly interventions including surgery, medication and imaging.
The Huffington Post article reported on new guidelines by the American College of Physicians (ACP), released to change the tides on one of the most common reasons Americans make a doctor’s appointment. Low back pain surprisingly ranks second behind the common cold in conditions driving people to seek medical advice.
The hope is that Americans will begin to treat most cases of low back pain much like they do the common cold: by allowing it to run its course. For those with chronic pain, alternative treatments such as physical therapy, yoga and acupuncture are being heralded as more effective and less costly than injections, MRIs and pain relievers.
The ACP turned its attention to the medications commonly used to treat low back pain. The committee’s findings suggest acetaminophens (including Tylenol and Excedrin) are ill-equipped to treat back pain and steer physicians to prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs including aspirin and ibuprofen. Overuse of the appropriate NSAIDs, however, can lead to heart and gastrointestinal issues in some cases. Due to their highly addictive nature, opioids are recommended as a last-resort option, used only after non-drug therapies and other pain relievers fail to improve pain.
The new guidelines—replacing outdated guidelines released in 2007—help patients avoid the risks associated with all pain relievers and reinforce the value of seeking out low-risk alternative therapies including exercise, multidisciplinary rehabilitation and massage.
Physical therapists are experts in restoring and improving patients’ mobility and movement. Physical therapists not only treat persistent or recurrent low back pain, but educate patients on the prevention of future issues. To prevent back pain, PTs teach patients how to:
- Maintain proper body positioning at work, home, and during leisure activities.
- Lift correctly by keeping the load close to the body.
- Request assistance when lifting heavy objects.
- Adopt and follow a regular exercise program.
These strategies can help a patient resolve the current case of low back pain and reduce the risk of returning pain. Be sure to inquire about the physical therapists’ experience in helping people with low back pain when contacting a physical therapy clinic for an appointment. It’s also helpful to make a list of symptoms and be prepared to describe activities that make the pain worse in great detail.