Why do physical therapy for back and neck pain?

Rehabilitation is the science of blending physiology with exercises and applying these principles to the body when an injury is sustained. Physical therapy for back and neck conditions focuses on the structures that support the spine and its joints including muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Goals of physical therapy

There are five main goals of physical therapy, as described below:

  1. To educate patients on the principles of stretching and strengthening, which will in turn, help manage pain and accelerate tissue healing.
  2. To educate patients on proper posture and ergonomic principles to preserve the spine.
  3. To accelerate the stages of healing, which focus on:
    • Reducing pain and the inflammatory cycle
      • Apply passive modalities only if severe: ice/heat/ultrasound/traction/electrical stimulation
      • Educate regarding posture and resting in neutral position
    • Restoring muscular flexibility, joint mobility, and spine motion
      • Introduce specific stretching exercises and progressions to abolish pain and stiffness to specific regions with high frequency and repetitions
    • Strengthening the involved muscles
      • Teach how to maintain the new postures
    • Returning to normal activities
      • Create new awareness of body mechanics and daily stretching for life
  1. To prevent future occurrences. As you are able to maneuver through episodes of back or neck pain, learn what program is needed to deter relapses.
  2. To manage exacerbations. No matter how diligent you are, you are bound to have a forgetful moment, do an activity improperly and so suffer flare ups, but new knowledge will help eliminate symptoms in a couple days, instead of suffering for weeks or months.

Prevalence of pain

  • Studies show that 90% of the population experience spine symptoms at least once in their lifetime.
  • Many people have neck and back pain, but it is not always isolated to those regions. The pain can also travel into arms or head/eyes as well as radiate into the gluts, groin, hip and legs/feet.
  • Each episode of back stiffness and pain can become progressively worse and last longer and travel farther from its origin.
  • If you don't stop the cycle and figure out the cause of each episode, accumulation of damage to structures lead to eventual failure of the spinal structures. At this stage, physical therapy alone will not be effective. You will need more extensive intervention with spine doctors, pain management, or possibly a surgeon.
  • If the symptoms were addressed early, 95% of herniated disc patients would NOT require surgery.