Physical Therapy Exercises for Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is one of the most common medical problems that people face every day; however, it is also very debilitating and can make tasks like going to work, being active, or even getting out of bed extremely painful or even impossible. Lower back pain can prevent even the most active people from doing simple activities like working out or walking. Most people do not know that physical therapy is one of the most helpful interventions for healing back pain. Temporary injuries or permanent degenerative conditions can cause lower back pain, but physical therapy offers a solution in both cases. Staying active throughout recovery is essential to achieving pain-free movement, and physical therapy involves exercises and stretches that can improve your function without causing additional pain. By guiding you through tests and exercises, a physical therapist can often identify the exact cause of your lower back pain with as much accuracy as an MRI! Your PT will develop a specialized treatment plan to help you regain strength and stability. 

Common Causes of Lower Back Pain

Pain in your lower back can be a symptom of various issues, but sometimes it is a symptom of an underactive or overactive lifestyle. Many people have lower back pain from bad posture, lifting something too heavy, or being on their feet for long periods. If the pain is left untreated or continues without relief, it could signify a more serious underlying condition. One of the most common causes of back pain is strained muscles or tendons. Many soft tissues are connected throughout your back, and simple activities like sitting down too long or lifting heavy weights can strain the muscles or even cause them to tear.

Additionally, many joints and discs in the back often become worn down or moved over time, resulting in serious pain and mobility issues. The most common conditions are degenerative disc disease, facet joint dysfunction, spondylolisthesis, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, and a lumbar herniated disc. These conditions can result from overuse or underuse and can cause severe pain and difficulty moving even small amounts. Osteoarthritis (OA) is a huge contributor to many lower back problems. Because it is caused by everyday wear and tear on your spine and the joints, OA can begin at any time and often lead to slowly worsening pain as your cartilage, and bone composition continues to break down and lose stability.

In some cases, lower back pain can be caused by a deformity that places unnecessary strain on certain parts of your back to compensate for any weaknesses caused by the structural impairment. Structural issues can be developed at any age and, if left untreated, can lead to conditions that affect your spine and lower back discs and joints. Injuries such as spinal fractures or dislocations can occur in severe accidents or traumatic situations. Traumatic injuries like these cause permanent damage and chronic pain when left untreated. It is crucial to receive treatment as soon as possible to prevent an injury from worsening to where it requires surgery or leads to irreparable damage. 

Stretch and Strengthen Your Lower Back 

Stretching your back when experiencing pain has many benefits beyond pain relief. Stretches like a knee to chest stretch or a piriformis muscle stretch can help reduce pain and the strain on your lower back and any stiffness. Most stretches can be adapted and specified for a patient’s level of flexibility and mobility. Even stretching other parts of the body like the neck, shoulders, and hips can reduce stress on your back. Yoga can be a helpful tool for increasing your range of motion. Still, it must be done carefully and with professional instruction to guarantee that you do not put additional strain on your back or risk further injuries. Beyond gaining the flexibility to reduce pain through stretching, exercising your back to gain strength can also help in multiple ways. Not only can strengthening your back minimize pain, but it can also help prevent the risk of reinjury in the future by providing dynamic stabilization of your spine. The stronger your core and back muscles are, the less likely they are to become strained or torn due to hyperactivity or sudden movements. Walking and swimming are excellent ways to begin building back strength. Walking can help you stay active and can be done in small amounts or even on a treadmill if your injury also affects your balance. Swimming is one of the best low-impact exercises for your back since being in the water dramatically reduces your back strain and allows you to move without as much pain. Here are some other exercises that can help:

  • Wall Sits- Find a sturdy wall and stand about a foot away with your back facing the wall. Lean against the wall until your entire back is against it. Slowly slide down the wall until your knees are at an angle you are comfortable with and is 90 degrees or greater. Hold this position for up to 15 seconds and then slide back up the wall into a standing position. Repeat several times.
  • Pelvic Tilts- Lie with your back on the floor and your knees bent. With feet flat on the floor, tighten your abdomen and pull your belly button in towards your back. This should result in your spine pressing into the floor and your hips moving back. Hold this position while maintaining steady breathing and then relax after ten seconds. Repeat 10 times.
  • Bridges- Lie with your back on the floor and your knees bent. Only your heels should be touching the floor. Lift your hips into the air while squeezing your glutes and pushing your heels into the floor. Your body should be making a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Remain in this position for a few seconds and then slowly lower your hips. Rest before repeating 10 times. 

How Physical Therapy Can Help

Physical therapy is one of the best forms of treatment for lower back pain. With professional guidance from a physical therapist, you can not only achieve pain-free movement and recover from an injury, but you can build strength and flexibility. This can not only allow you to return to living a healthy lifestyle, but it can help you be stronger and more active than you were before the injury while teaching you how to prevent injuries in the future. 

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