Physical therapy is often used to treat back pain and sciatica (leg pain). You are treated and supervised by a physical therapist. The treatment is customized for your needs, and can include passive or active treatments.
Passive treatments (the therapist treats you) can include:
- Electrical stimulation
- Ice and hot packs
- Manipulation (therapist moves parts of your body)
These treatments can help reduce pain in the short term. However, they don’t increase strength, endurance or flexibility, which decrease pain and improve function in the long term. Research shows that passive physical therapy is no better than placebo (dummy) treatments to decrease back pain for the long term.
Active physical therapy is more effective at decreasing pain and improving function. Your physical therapist measures how well your back (or other body part) can move, and your strength and endurance levels. Next, the therapist compares these measurements to what healthy people of your age and ideal body weight can do.
Your physical therapist designs an exercise program to increase your strength, flexibility and endurance. Many research studies show that improving strength, flexibility and endurance in the back, hip and shoulder muscles reduces back pain in time. It might be several months before you notice less pain.
The physical therapists at the OHSU Spine Center are trained to prescribe appropriate exercise for spinal conditions. When you are confident that you can do the exercises on your own, we help you start exercising independently. At this point, you are more likely to notice that your back pain is less frequent and severe.