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How to Get the Most Out of Physical Therapy for Back Pain

Have you been dealing with chronic back pain as of late? Are you recovering from back surgery or neck surgery? Are you getting over a back injury and slowly working your way back toward full mobility? If any of these situations apply to you, your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help speed your recovery and to give you a safe way to ramp up your exercise, range of motion, and overall day-to-day mobility. Physical therapy for back pain can help relieve or eliminate pain, foster proper healing, and get you back to full function.

If you are thinking about physical therapy, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your treatment:

  • Find an expert

Your doctor will likely refer you to a specific physical therapist, or at least recommend a few PT professionals you might call. Physical therapists are specialists who know a lot about the body and its movement. Physical therapy is a very hands-on practice, which means you want to be working with a skilled and qualified PT.

  • Ask lots of questions

We tend to think of medical care as a service, or as something done to us. However, physical therapy is a collaborative and educational process. Your physical therapist will prescribe exercises and other strategies to help promote healing, but they will also teach you how to prevent injuries in the future. A physical therapist will have been 100 percent successful in their job if, at the end of your sessions with them, they never see you again as a repeat customer/patient.

To get the most value out of your physical therapy, then, you should focus on educating yourself—both for now and the future. Ask lots of questions. Inquire about the purpose and benefits of each exercise. Get tips for how you can prevent injuries in the future. Ask about stretches, exercises, or other habits you can implement in your routine to stay healthy and injury-free. The more you ask, the more you learn. The more you learn, the less likely you are to be back working through physical therapy for back pain again in a year or two.

  • Keep up with your physical therapy exercises

In addition to the long-term lessons it teaches, physical therapy also has another thing in common with school: homework! You will have regular sessions with your physical therapist where he or she trains you in different exercises, assesses your progress, and works with you to improve range of motion and overall function. After your session, though, your PT will give you an “assignment,” which is usually a set of stretches or exercises to work through each day until your next session. While we all skipped a homework assignment or two back in our school days, you shouldn’t do that now. Keeping consistent with your exercises will allow you to make progress on recovery every day. You will be able to feel the benefits, in the form of reduced back pain and increased range of motion. If you skip a day, you might find that you feel stiffer or have a flare-up of pain the next day. Bottom line, doing your physical therapy exercises every day and heeding your PT’s instructions for at-home strategies will speed up your recovery and get you back up to 100 percent days or weeks earlier.

  • Remain patient

Patience is one of the most important things you can bring to your sessions with your PT. Physical therapy for back injuries isn’t going to restore you to full mobility overnight or cure your pain with the speed of a magic trick. In general, physical therapy takes time. Part of that is that every patient and every injury is different. Your PT will need to work with you to understand your injury and to design an individualized plan for treatment and recovery. From there, you and your PT will work together to rebuild fitness and function and to develop muscular strength and good habits to prevent future injury or disability. This entire process is complicated and multifaceted, and it won’t work if you aren’t patient enough to stay the course. Keep a positive attitude. Understand that you are going to have sessions that make you feel terrific and sessions that probably aren’t as productive. Resist the urge to dive back into your routine before your PT clears you to do so. You might feel that the process is moving at a snail’s pace, but it’s faster and smarter than derailing your recovery by overextending yourself too soon.

  • Don’t be afraid to voice concerns

As mentioned above, every injury is its own animal, and every person recovers a little differently. Your PT will try to devise the best plan to treat your particular back injury. However, it’s important to realize that there could be some trial and error along the way. What might work for another patient with back pain similar to yours could prove uncomfortable or painful for you. Do not be afraid to voice these concerns. If an exercise recommended by your PT causes pain or discomfort, let them know. While you might think you should “defer to the experts,” the fact is that only you are a true expert in how something makes you feel. In fact, telling your PT that an exercise exacerbates your back pain rather than helping it will make their job easier. It tells them more about your injury and enables them to tweak your recovery plan and recommend alternative stretches or exercises. Get in the habit of turning your sessions into a back-and-forth dialogue, where you are not only asking questions but also telling your PT how different exercises feel. Also, as you are stretching and exercising at home, take note of anything that doesn’t quite feel right and report it back to your PT at your next session.

Start Your Physical Therapy for Back Pain Today

Do you think you are ready to begin physical therapy for back pain injuries? Dr Kushwaha would be happy to recommend an expert PT to help you with your recovery. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

About Vivek Kushwaha

Vivek P. Kushwaha attended the University of Texas at Austin where he earned his B.A. from the College of Natural Sciences. He then earned his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio, Texas.

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