An episode of back pain can last for several weeks, and may also reoccur upon treatment. Physiotherapy is often considered to decrease back pain, increase function, provide education and support to prevent further recurrences and allow a patient to gradually return to normal activities.
How Physiotherapy Works
Physiotherapy involves physical and mechanical treatment methods to reduce pain in soft tissues like muscles, tendons and ligaments, improve function and build muscle strength.
Physiotherapy takes a holistic approach to recovery, looking at the whole body and providing ways to improve general well being along with treatment of specific illness or injury to a body area.
For example, back pain can be caused due to numerous reasons such as poor posture, awkward bending or twisting, overstretching, lifting heavy objects, or spinal deformity. A physiotherapist will help provide relief from back pain by recommending few changes and guiding a patient through strengthening exercises for back and good posture techniques that he/she can do himself/herself.
There are a number of treatment techniques that are used in physiotherapy to restore movement and normal body function. These include:
#1 Movement and exercise
Physiotherapists guide patients with exercises to strengthen an affected body area, which when repeated regularly over a course of few weeks improves mobility and function. Other gentle activities like walking and swimming are also recommended for those recovering from a surgery or sports injury.
#2 Manual therapy
Manual therapy uses hands to mobilise soft tissues and joints. It helps to improve circulation, drain fluid from affected body parts, improve movement, relieve pain and aid relaxation. Manual therapy proves very useful in treating chronic back pain that lasts for more than six weeks.
Manual therapy involves massage, stretching, joint mobilisation, manual resistance training and joint manipulation including spinal mobilisation. It is a prime method used by physiotherapists to remove movement restrictions and allow body to regain proper motion.
#3 Heat therapy
Heat application reduces pain and improves mobility and is especially useful against injuries to soft tissue like the tendon, muscle or ligament. It works best against muscle tightness and spasms and allows a therapist to stretch the affected area better.
#4 Ice therapy
Ice application is used to reduce pain and inflammation following an injury. Ice therapy works by constricting blood vessels of the affected soft tissue. This treatment makes a joint and tissue more mobile and enhances manual therapy.
Electrotherapy is the use of electrical energy as a medical treatment. It is used for relaxing muscle spasms, increasing blood circulation, reducing pain and promoting healing. Physiotherapy treatments in form of electrotherapy include:
- Ultrasound – Ultrasound therapy uses sound waves to generate heat deep in the body that helps in loosening up tissues ahead of manual therapy or exercise. It is best used for injury to connective tissues.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) – Using a TENS machine, which is a small battery-powered device that sends low electric currents through electrodes, the skin surface of the affected area is delivered electric stimulation. TENS works by blocking or supressing pain signals to the brain. However, it does not cause muscles to contract.
- Laser therapy – Low-level lasers containing specific wavelengths of light are used to reduce inflammation, pain and muscle fatigue. The treatment is best used against muscle or connective tissue injuries to improve movement in an affected joint and reduce discomfort to the patient.
- Diathermy – This method is most commonly recommended for joint conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. A high-frequency electric current is delivered to body tissue in form of ultrasound, microwave or shortwave. The heat increases blood flow and relieves pain. The current can reach as deep as two inches below the skin surface.
#6 Hydrotherapy (Aquatic therapy)
This form of physiotherapy is carried out in water, usually in a shallow swimming pool or a special hydrotherapy pool, and involves exercise routines that can be carried out in water without putting pressure on the spine. Hydrotherapy helps relieve pain, improve blood circulation and relax muscles.
#7 Physiotherapy Education
An important branch of physiotherapy rehabilitation is family or patient education. Along with specific treatments, a physiotherapist can guide a patient about his/her particular condition, how the symptoms can be managed at home, precautions that must be observed and ways to prevent re-injury.
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