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What to do About Your Back Pain

Dr. Arnan Sisson PT / January 22, 2024


Low back pain is the third most common reason why people visit their MD! Think about that. The number one reason people visit their doctor is for cold and flu symptoms.

Suffering from lower back pain? Call us at (804) 493-3256 for a free consultation to find out if we can help.

Back pain is an epidemic in this country and is THE LEADING CAUSE of activity limitation and work absence throughout much of the world.

You have all heard stories about someone lifting too heavy of weight or working in the yard and their back going out. That experience can be very painful and debilitating. When it happens to you, you find yourself in bed with a heating pad unable to move. You call in sick the next day hoping that it will go away soon.

The reality is that most of us will have a low-back episode at some point in our lives. And if you are lucky enough, it will go away quickly. If you aren’t lucky, it will become more of an issue. The great thing about low back pain (if there is such a thing) is that if you treat it quickly, it typically gets better much faster.

Dealing with your lower back pain

It is human nature to hope that unpleasant things will simply go away. We ignore the rattling noises in our car. We put off going to the dentist thinking that the toothache would go away. Why not take the car to the mechanic and get that noise cleared up? Why not get to the dentist and solve that toothache that has been bothering you for two weeks?

Those who get physical therapy earlier—within 14 days—have better outcomes. It makes sense… the earlier you address an issue, the easier it tends to be to fix it.

That said, while treating the problem quickly is ideal, we have had people in our clinic who had suffered from back pain for over 30 years but still did extremely well with our treatment. It just takes longer to get relief for those patients than for our clients who sought treatment much earlier.

Understanding the causes of back pain

There are many reasons why people experience back pain. Below are some of the most common causes we’ve seen (or aggravating factors) among the patients we’ve helped in our Montross area physical therapy clinic.

  • Improper lifting:  We often see people who sustained a back injury when working in their yard or lifting heavy at the gym and not using proper form while doing so.
  • Prolonged sitting: Sitting puts a lot of pressure on the discs in our back and also allows certain muscles of the back to become tight because they are held in a shortened position. This can occur even if we are sitting with “good posture.”
  • Improper sleeping positions: A common cause of neck and back pain is not using the pillows, mattress, and a sleeping position that is best for you, your body type, and the kind of back issue you’re dealing with.

It can be quite quick and easy to identify problems in any of these areas and determine if you need to make changes in how you lift things, your desk/chair setup, or your sleeping arrangement.

How back pain gets started

Have you ever worked in the yard or picked up something the wrong way, and before you know it, you are on the ground writhing in pain?

If you haven’t had such an experience, consider yourself lucky! Studies show that most people will have an episode of significant back pain at some point in their life.

I can recall one very distinct story when my back “went out.” I was 21 years old, helping my brother move to DC, and unfortunately he was moving to the 3rd story of an apartment. We had driven several hours to get there and arrived late in the evening.

Everything was going well until I moved a small lamp. As I put it down, I had a feeling I was about to be in a lot of pain—and sure enough, I was right. This pain was like nothing I had experienced before. I was incapacitated.

What I had done was injure a “disc” in my back. The intervertebral discs are the spacers between the bones in your back. They function like shock absorbers to help forces distribute through your body. But your discs don’t like a lot of prolonged compression or heavy loads, both of which my spine had experienced a lot of that day.

I’d been sitting for 4 hours on a bumpy truck ride and then attempted to carry heavy furniture up 3 flights of stairs. This was a bad combination. I had a very difficult time standing up straight and couldn’t get comfortable in bed at all.

Managing symptoms—a short-term solution

In such cases, you might reach for a heating pad or ice pack, take a hot bath, or even try some Advil. But the reality is that you are only addressing the symptoms with those things. And that is completely fine at the moment. There is nothing wrong with addressing symptoms, as long as you also address the causes of your back pain.

You may have to see your doctor. He or she may prescribe some medication to help ease your pain. And in small doses, that can be perfectly fine. But you want to be careful not to rely on pain medication to get you through your day for very long.

We have an epidemic in this country of people abusing pain medication. The problem with opioid abuse has risen to such dangerous levels that the FDA required a new label warning patients of the potential harms of these very powerful medications.

The real problem becomes deciding what you should do about it. Do you take it easy for a few days and hope it gets better? This strategy works for some people. But what do you do if doesn’t get better in a few days?

Treatment options for back pain

Back pain that isn’t improving within a week of the original injury needs to be looked at by a professional. Unfortunately, when you go to your physician, they are most likely to just give you pain meds and muscle relaxers and tell you to rest. While those can be helpful in certain circumstances, this approach is contributing to the epidemic of pain medication dependency and addiction in this country. Further, there are usually safer options that are equally effective.

Some patients look for a spine surgeon to start exploring options. This is also unfortunate, as research has shown that physical therapy is every bit as effective as spine surgery for treating certain types of back pain. Think about that for a bit. You will do just as well with physical therapy as if you go through a risky and costly back surgery.

I know I wouldn’t want anyone cutting my spine if I wasn’t confident that the outcomes were far better than less-invasive alternatives.

If you are lucky and find a surgeon who only uses surgery as a last resort, he/she will likely give you a prescription for physical therapy. But what if he/she owns the physical therapy clinic next door that they are sending you to? How do you know you will get the best care possible? It’s not to say that those aren’t great physical therapists, but most of them are required to see multiple patients per hour and much of the care is given by PT assistants and techs that have very little training compared with a Doctor of Physical Therapy.

When we compare outcomes from conservative treatment versus surgical intervention, physical therapy performs as well as surgical interventions in the long run.

My story ended well. I finally went to a physical therapist, and I was better in several weeks. But the reality is if I addressed it immediately I would have been better much faster. (If only I was already a Doctor of Physical Therapy at that time!)

How we treat back pain at Sisson & Associates

Here at Sisson’s Physical Therapy, we don’t recommend addictive medications that only affect symptoms rather than the causes of the symptoms. We aren’t owned by a physician group, and all of our treatment sessions are a full hour spent one-on-one with our patients. You are the customer and all of our attention is focused on what is best for you.

Sometimes the underlying problems that are causing your pain can be revealed in a quick free consultation in our clinic. Within 20-30 minutes with one of our Physical Therapists, you can have the relief of knowing exactly what’s behind your back pain and what’s the best path to get rid of it.

Don’t let back pain hold you back

In what ways is your back pain limiting you? What does it keep you from doing (or doing as much as you’d like to)? Are you able to exercise, work, and spend quality time with your family without being disrupted or sidelined by back pain? It doesn’t have to be that way! There are safe, natural, hands-on solutions that can get you back to the active life you deserve.

Don’t let your lower back pain get in the way of putting on your pants in the morning, picking up your grandchild, or sitting comfortably in your car or while reading a good book. Your situation is likely something that can be vastly improved with the right treatment. If you haven’t already read it, click below for some free information on what you can do right now to ease your back pain: CLICK HERE FOR THE POPULAR RELATED REPORT: 9 Quick & Easy Ways to End Back Pain/Stiffness…WITHOUT Having to Take Painkillers or See Your MD