Back Injuries: Can Physiotherapy for Back Pain Help?
Back injuries are common and most of the population (4 out of 5 adults) experience back pain or injury at some point in their lives.
The spine extends from the neck down to the tailbone and is made up of a long row of segments of bone known as vertebrae, which are separated by intervertebral discs and surrounded by ligaments, tendons and muscles. The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves which sits inside the spinal column. The spine supports the body to sit, stand and walk and there are few tasks which don’t involve movement of the spine.
Injury can occur to any of the spinal structures and the type of injury may not always be reflected by the severity of pain experienced. Age, lifestyle, fitness level and type of work all have a big impact on spinal injuries. The pain experienced can also vary widely depending on the individual and personal experience. Back injuries can be classified as acute or chronic and the specific type of injury helps dictate the most effective back physiotherapy treatment.
Some back injuries are acute, occurring suddenly after a specific type of movement, knock or fall resulting in pain. Acute back injuries may last for a few days or weeks.
Chronic back injuries may build up gradually over time or they may stem from an acute injury where back pain or discomfort is still experienced after 12 weeks.
Types of Back Injuries
The back is a highly complex and integral part of the human body, which can unfortunately result in a wide range of injuries.
Sprains & Strains – damage to ligaments, tendons or muscles. This can occur from poor lifting techniques or lifting a load which is too heavy.
Traumatic Injury – sudden injury to any part of the spine, ranging from a minor injury which resolves on its own, to a major injury severely impacting spinal function.
Herniated or Prolapsed Discs – when vertebrae are injured, this can result in the disc sitting between two vertebrae to protrude out of the space it normally sits in, and can cause severe pain.
Intervertebral Disc Degeneration – the intervertebral discs provide cushioning between the vertebrae, and degeneration means that a disc is narrowing and losing its sponginess. This can lead to back discomfort in the region of degeneration, or referred pain in a different region such as the hips.
Sciatica – pinching of the sciatic nerve which can be caused by a narrowing of the spinal canal. This results in discomfort down the outer buttock and down the legs.
Spondylolisthesis – when a spinal vertebrae shifts anteriorly in relation to the rest of the spinal column, which can cause pain to surrounding nerves. This is often seen on scans, though causes nil to minor discomfort unless it is very significant movement.
Stress Fracture - individuals who have osteoporosis are at a greater risk of vertebral fractures.
Scoliosis – abnormal curvature of the spine which often develops with age, can cause back pain and structural abnormality of the spine. Scoliosis may be genetic or may develop with time.
Pain Management Options
Treatment options vary depending on the type and severity of the injury. Bed rest is typically no longer considered as an effective treatment for back pain, and inactivity can lead to the pain getting worse and reduced flexibility. Keeping active after an injury is important, including the use of hot or cold packs and over the counter pain relief in order to keep moving gently. Movements that aggravate the back or cause further pain should be avoided, though not entirely, as pain is likely NOT to be causing structural damage in most cases. Acute injuries will need to be closely managed, and once the acute phase has passed, gentle exercises specific to the injury can help to support recovery and regain muscle strength and posture.
How Physiotherapy Can Help
Physiotherapists work with individuals on a one-on-one basis in the treatment of back injuries and back pain. Physiotherapy for back pain involves careful assessment of the injury, direct treatment and the development of exercise programs tailored to the specific needs of each individual they treat. This involves strengthening exercises for abdominal and back muscles, which are important structures which support the spine.
Physically active individuals and those who maintain a healthy weight are at a lower risk of back injury. This combined with periodic back physiotherapy can help prevent back injuries from occurring in the first place.
Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy
Melbourne Sports Physio has a range of qualified and experienced professionals who can help provide ongoing support and treatment. Our friendly team are located in physio clinics across Melbourne in Essendon, North Melbourne and Blackburn South, and appointments can be made by calling 1300 369 930 or booking online.