How Physical Therapy Improves Function and Reduces Back Pain

One of the most common ailments patients consult their doctors about is back pain. Periods of back pain – both intermittent and chronic – can affect patients of all ages.

Taking the steps to prevent the causes of back pain such as maintaining a healthy diet, exercising on a regular basis, and maintaining ergonomically correct standards at work, are lifestyle choices you can make to keep your back healthy.

However, even with those choices, you may still experience back issues that require medical treatment. If this happens, it is good to know how physical therapy can improve function and reduce back pain so you can make an informed decision about your treatment options.

Types of Physical Therapy Treatment

If a doctor recommends physical therapy treatment for back pain, there are two types of treatments someone will likely have. Passive treatments are those that help the body to relax. These are treatments the physical therapist performs with no active participation from the patient. The second type is active treatments and involves the patient’s participation in different strengthening and stretching exercises.

Examples of Passive Treatment

When a patient first begins treatment, the physical therapist will usually start off with only passive treatments to help the back heal. There are several different types of passive treatment.

Hot and Cold Therapies

In this treatment the therapist will alternate between placing hot and cold packs on the back. The heat helps bring more blood to the affected area, providing more nutrients and oxygen to the area to help healing. Muscle spasms cause waste byproducts to build up and the blood helps move out that waste, which also aids in the healing process. Cold therapy can be done either with an ice pack or by ice massage. The cold helps reduce muscle spasms, inflammation, and pain.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

A TENS machine uses safe, electrical current to stimulate back muscles and override the pain. The electrical current causes the body to produce more endorphins. Those endorphins block the signal of pain to the brain. The currents also help reduce muscle spasms. Smaller versions of TENS machines are available for home use.


Sound waves from the ultrasound penetrate the soft tissue and increase blood circulation. This helps in reducing cramping, muscles spasms, stiffness, swelling, and pain.

Deep Tissue Massage

A physical therapist can use deep tissue massage to help release the tension in the ligaments, muscles, and tendons which can contribute to pain.

Active Treatment Programs

Active treatments are individualized for each patient. A physical therapist will develop a program will build strength and improve flexibility and range of motion. The goal of these exercises is to improve function and reduce back pain.

A therapist will work with a patient during their appointments to ensure they are performing the exercises correctly, however, it is also important to the success of the therapy to do these exercise at home, as well.

Most programs will include stretching exercises, strengthening exercises, and low-impact aerobic exercises. Some of the best low-impact aerobic exercises for back pain include walking, swimming, and cycling. Engaging in these activities two or three times is very helpful in reducing the pain.

Talk to a Spine Doctor About Physical Therapy

Many people want to find a way to treat their back pain without medicine or surgery. When that is the case, physical therapy may help make their pain more manageable and allow them to live a fuller life.

If you would like to learn more about how physical therapy improves function and reduces back pain, contact a spine doctor today to set up a free consultation and to find out what type of treatment options are available for your medical needs.