Given that roughly 85% of people in the U.S. will experience back pain at some point in their lives, it is surprising to learn that there is so much confusion about back pain. Go online and search for “Back Pain” and you’ll find research articles, pain management doctors, as well as back surgeons, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and other websites that sell different products that are marketed as exactly what you need to resolve your back pain.

The funny thing (which is really not funny at all) is that the actual pain generating structures are rarely identified in cases of back pain. Dr. Dennis C. Turk, professor of anesthesiology and pain research at the University of Washington and a past President of the American Pain Society, states the exact cause of back pain is not found in about 85 percent of patients. Despite this, many people with back pain undergo diagnostic testing and even delay treatment in order to wait for the results of those tests, regardless of the fact that these tests rarely show the actual source(s) of back pain.

What is actually causing your back pain?

To understand back pain, you must first understand that it is actually more of a medical syndrome rather than an actual diagnosis. Back pain is a descriptive term for a variety of conditions. The problem is that many people (including some health care professionals) try to treat “back pain” as if it is one condition with the same cause rather than a symptom which may arise from multiple different causes. Treating back pain through one approach is usually ineffective. Treating back pain effectively requires addressing every area of your life. The actual causes of back pain can be different for each person. You can have pain caused by stenotic changes in the spine causing nerve compression, it could be arthritic changes on the end plates of the vertebrae, it could be facet dysfunction caused by hypermobility in certain areas of the spine, etc… The main point here is that the causes of low back pain are numerous and often very difficult to isolate.

How do I treat back pain when I don’t know the one thing that is causing it?

The most effective treatment approaches tend to use a cluster of symptoms/findings based on subjective reports from the patient, comprehensive physical exam, and multiple tests of body function and ability. Things that are not functioning in an optimal manner can then be identified and a care plan can be created and executed. A big key is the patient should be frequently reassessed and tweaks should be made to the care plan. Treatments should be administered and the patient should be frequently reassessed to observe the effectiveness of the selected treatments. If the treatments are working, the practitioner can continue working on those areas of focus and progress the patient as they improve. If the treatments are not working, the practitioner can move on to a different treatment or approach.

Who should I seek to help with my back pain?

Physical Therapists (PTs) have extensive training in optimal function of the body and are typically able to find areas that need improvement, formulate a plan of care, and execute the appropriate treatments to relieve back pain. Patients in Texas can now access physical therapy without a doctor referral and early access to PT for back pain has been shown to help shorten recovery times and decrease healthcare costs associated with back pain. If the patient needs to be referred to a different practitioner, the PT can make that decision and make sure the patient ends up with the appropriate healthcare provider.

If you are in the San Antonio area and are having problems with back pain, contact us at Momentum Physical Therapy or visit any of our clinics and we’ll get you the help you need.