Physical Therapy for Spine Conditions

Physical therapy for spine conditions
Dr. Hans Carlson (left) specializes in sports medicine and rehabilitation. 

Physical therapy can be an effective treatment for a range of spine conditions. By increasing strength, endurance and flexibility, you can reduce pain and improve function.

The physical therapists at the OHSU Spine Center can tailor a program to meet your specific needs. When you’re ready, they also help you transition to exercising on your own.


Physical therapy includes passive treatments such as ultrasound, ice and hot packs, massage and manipulation (the therapist moving parts of your body). These can reduce pain in the short term, but research shows they are no more effective than placebos after that.

Active physical therapy, however, can reduce pain and improve function and quality of life in the long term. Your physical therapist measures your strength and how well your back or other body part can move. The therapist compares these with what healthy people your age and at ideal body weight can do.

Your therapist then designs an exercise program to increase your strength, flexibility and endurance. Research shows that improving these abilities in the back, hip and shoulder muscles reduces back pain over time. Depending on your condition and needs, therapy may include:

  • Strengthening exercises for your back, abdominal muscles and hips
  • Training in exercises (swimming, cycling, walking) that place less stress on your spine
  • Training in lifting correctly
  • Learning to manage pain
  • Pool therapy
  • Education and training about good posture
  • Improving your balance and learning to avoid falls
  • Endurance training

It might take several months before you notice less pain. By the time you’re ready to begin exercising on your own, however, you are more likely to notice that your back pain is less frequent and severe.

As your pain decreases, you will probably notice improvement in your ability to do daily activities such as walking, grocery shopping or yardwork. If you’re involved in sports, our athletic trainers can help with sport-specific strengthening and agility drills.