Low back pain is an extremely common condition that will affect most people at some point in their life. In fact, 1 in 6 Australians have some sort of back concern. It is now the most common reason middle-aged Australians make the decision to retire early.
Recently, new guidelines on the management of low back pain have been published and you will start to see these floating around medical websites, social media and in health care practices. These guidelines serve to reinforce how physiotherapists (well good ones) have been managing back pain for years.
At Out of the Box Physiotherapy we believe that the guidelines start to shine light on low back pain but don’t cover the most important factors regarding initial symptom management and can leave patients confused on what can be done to help reduce their pain.
This blog looks to cover to role that physiotherapy can play in the assessment and management of lower back pain. We hear far too often of patients presenting to emergency rooms only to be left in significant pain.
Where should I go if I have low back pain?
The pain experienced from this condition can be excruciating, debilitating and at times completely unexpected. This is often what drives people to go to the emergency room - fear of the unknown and the desire to get relief. This is where physiotherapy fits into the picture.
Physiotherapists are trained not only to provide pain relief through hands-on treatment, but also to screen/test for what we call red flags. Red flags are the pathologies that are considered serious. In low back pain, the good news is that only 1% of patients who present to primary care have a condition that requires medical management. This means physiotherapists are prime healthcare professionals to determine if you require input from a doctor or if your condition is best managed through physiotherapy.
What will happen if I see a physiotherapist?
Your physiotherapist will ask a number of questions designed to screen for serious pathology (again the good news is that 99% of patients don’t have scary pathology). They will then perform some testing to determine if your condition is likely to respond to treatment at the clinic. If the physiotherapist is concerned they will refer you out to the appropriate medical professional.
If it is determined your low back pain can be managed in the clinic, the physiotherapist may ask some further questions to gather information surrounding the history of your health, how you feel about your back pain, the pain itself and how it affects your life. You may also be asked to complete a screening form regarding the back pain. This helps the physiotherapist to gather a complete picture about you and your condition so they can work with you and set goals.
The physiotherapist will then work with you to determine what is important to you right now. We often find clinically that each patient is different in what they want from the first appointment but controlling pain and improving function is often the first point of call if the back pain is debilitating.
The physiotherapist will explain to you what is likely the cause or contributors of your low back pain, what your management looks like initially to settle the worst of your symptoms and teach you about how to self manage this condition. This will be a continuous process occuring over the course of your treatment . We know the best up to date research (and clinically in our practice) tells us that teaching patients and personalizing treatment improves outcomes long term.
So, can I do anything before my appointment?
Yes! Trialing different options for pain relief that allow you to start moving, even if it’s only a little bit is important. We know that the muscles around the back and hip can really feel like they stiffen up making it hard to move. Using things like heat - warm showers, hot packs (remember to check your skin and put down a tea towel to reduce the chance of burns), warm baths and warm water bottles can help. Using deep breathing and finding comfortable positions whilst the pain relieving techniques are implemented can further reduce pain. Trying to then move little bits at a time where possible is the next step. Finally, booking an appointment with your local physiotherapist at Out of the Box Physiotherapy is your last step.
Low back pain does NOT have to be a condition you live with forever. Speaking with a physiotherapist and getting the right advice, treatment and education is extremely important for getting the best out of your back.
Don’t back out from life! Our team of awesome physios are here to help.
Yours in health