By Kyle Graf – PTA, Frederick Sport and Spine Clinics

Low back pain is one of the most common orthopedic issues present in our time.  Day after day, patients are seen for diagnoses ranging from muscle strains to herniated discs.  Symptoms can vary from pain, loss of range of motion, and radiculopathy (a disease of the nerve root).  This greatly reduces one’s quality of life.  And in addition to a plethora of symptoms, the price tag for treating low back pain can quickly accumulate due to medicine, imaging and surgery.  Unfortunately, surgery is not always needed, and apart from thousands of dollars being paid, outcomes are not always favorable–or needed.

Physical Therapy Plus a Home Program

The question is this: are they any practical ways that the general population can prevent and treat their backs?  Yes!  There is, and even severe diagnoses can be treated with a good therapy and home program.  But before we explore some treatment options, we need to provide a basic overview of anatomy and pathology related to the lumbar spine.

The Source of Your Low Back Pain

Your lumbar spine is composed of five vertebrae, all of which are the thickest of the spine.  These vertebrae protect your spinal cord and provide an opening for the nerves to exit. These nerves then travel down various parts of the body based on the vertebral level.  Long muscles travel along the spine. Combined with ligaments they provide strength and stability.  In between your vertebrae are intervertebral discs that are responsible for providing cushion and shock absorption.  At times, these discs can bulge or herniate, resulting in compression of the nerve root.  A compressed nerve root cam lead to pain that includes burning, numbness, and weakness anywhere in the lower extremities.

Living with this pain can have a dramatic impact on your quality of life.  Furthermore, even if the disc is not involved, sprains and strains can lead to localized pain around the low back and hips.  Muscles then tighten up and result in impaired movement and limited flexibility.

Physical Therapy Before Surgical Treatment

So, what can be done in an age of medications, imaging, and surgery?  First, none of these procedures and interventions are wrong, but they may not always be needed.  If a person can utilize a more conservative approach, they can save time and hard-earned money.  Second, physical therapy and self-care are realistic options which can greatly reduce pain and improve function following a low back injury.  It makes sense to try a more conservative approach before seeking a surgical solution.

The McKenzie Method Gets Results

There are many different approaches to treating low back pain, but we are going to look at one popular method which has revolutionized orthopedic treatment: the McKenzie Method.

Robin McKenzie, who was a therapist in New Zealand, came across a unique phenomenon while treating a patient for radicular pain one day.  He was preparing to perform manual therapy and told him to lie on the table to get prepared.  Now, extension movements (leaning back) were not utilized during this time, so when Robin found his patient on his stomach with the table on an incline, you could imagine his dismay.  However, something unexpected happened.  Instead of the patient being worse, he was told that all the pain in his leg was gone.  Why was this so?  Because an extended position allows the disc to migrate anterior and off of the affected nerve root.  This provided the foundation for his method.  The disc position can be influenced with repeated or sustained movements and greatly reduce symptoms.  Theoretically and in practice, a herniated disc can be treated with specific movements prescribed by a Physical Therapist or Physical Therapist Assistant.

Patient and Therapist Working Together

Perhaps one of the more important elements of the McKenzie method is patient education. The patient has to learn about proper body mechanics/posture and home exercises that will speed up results and prevent future flare ups.  If appropriate for McKenzie treatment, your therapist will use a combined approach of directional specific exercises and posture training.  Teaching home exercises that support your therapy can have wonderful, long lasting results.  We routinely witness these great results at Frederick Sport and Spine Clinics.

Taking Action to Relieve Your Low Back Pain

In conclusion, you need to watch your back.  Take time to learn about proper lifting mechanics and posture.  If you are having pain, schedule an appointment at any of our three clinics. We can help restore your quality of life and relieve your lower back pain with sound, clinically proven, physical therapy.

About Kyle Graf
Kyle Graf is a Physical Therapist Assistant at Frederick Sport and Spine Clinics in Frederick, Middletown and Urbana,  MD.
He has been working exclusively in outpatient physical therapy and enjoys seeing his patients reach their desired level of function and achieving their goals. Working with the doctors and therapists at Frederick Sport and Spine Clinics, he is continuously improving skills and increasing his knowledge to help patients succeed.

Frederick Sport and Spine Clinics (FSSC)  is the premier Sports and Spine Physical Therapy practice in Frederick, MD, operating 3 locations in Frederick City, Middletown, and Urbana.  Featuring Alter G anti-gravity,  SwimEx aquatic therapy and a full artificial turf facility in Urbana to support athletes of any sport in returning to their game.