Managing Acute Low Back Pain

Monday, March 04, 2019
Managing Acute Low Back Pain

Whether shoveling snow, lifting weights, or even picking up children or grandchildren, most of us have experienced an episode of acute low back pain. In fact, 25% of Americans report having low back pain within the last three months. Acute pain simply means occurring within the last three months, whereas chronic or persistent pain has lasted greater than three months. An injury to the back may result in what are called “peripheral symptoms” such as pain down the leg which typically indicates an injury to the disc or nerve root of the spinal cord. The spine, disc, and nerve roots are strong structures that have natural healing properties that will demonstrate their resilience over the course of the next few months as you heal.

Research and clinical practice will indicate continued movement is the best recommendation for treating your acute low back pain. Bed rest is only recommended in the event of a serious injury, which is only in a small percentage of back injuries. Movement may be any activity that does not exacerbate your pain such as walking, cycling, swimming, or yoga. Think of a back injury like a sprained ankle. Your ankle may become stiff, swollen, and painful to move in the early stages. Over time, this sensation will decrease with progressive exposure to more movement; just as it will your injured back. If at any time you experience symptoms such as loss of bladder or bowel control or have numbness and tingling between your thighs in a “saddle” distribution, this indicates a need for immediate medical attention. Although rare, this phenomenon called “Cauda Equina Syndrome” is an injury to the lower nerves of the spinal cord and needs immediate medical referral.

As a Doctor of Physical Therapy, I often see people after they feel they have exhausted their efforts in treating their back pain. A visit to a physical therapist will include a thorough subjective interview, physical examination, and individualized treatment plan to allow further progression of interventions to allow the best recovery possible. This may include stretches, strengthening exercises, physical activity or lifting recommendations, or nerve movement related exercises called Neurodynamics. Generally speaking, patients will report relief of symptoms around three months and through utilization of physical therapy and early return to physical activity will save costs on unnecessary imaging, surgery, or hospitalizations.




Physical Therapy

Written by Tyler Turbak, Physical Therapist
Last modified on Monday, March 04, 2019