Ask The Pain Experts: Why Should I Go to Physical Therapy for Back Pain?

Spine Universe features real patient questions and clinicians’ answers. Read the response to this question by Amy Rice, MSPT of the Center for Pain Management.


PATIENT QUESTION: I have spinal stenosis, and I’ve been told by my doctor that doing certain exercises will help. Does that mean I have to go to physical therapy, or can I just do these exercises at home? — Evergreen, CO

CLINICIAN ANSWER: The quick answer to your question is: yes and yes. You should seek physical therapy for back pain AND exercise at home.

You should go to physical therapy for pain treatment, but one of the goals of physical therapy is to teach you exercises and stretches you can do at home so that you can keep your body (and back) healthy and strong.

You may be saying, “Well, I can find information online about what exercises to do for spinal stenosis. Why can’t I just do those?” Or perhaps you have a friend who was also diagnosed with spinal stenosis and went to physical therapy; why can’t you follow their exercise plan?

A physical therapist who specializes in pain treatment will create a personalized plan for you, taking into consideration your pain conditions, your physical fitness, your time constraints, and your diagnosis.

Yes, you can find exercises online, but those will be general recommendations. The best, most effective way to treat your back pain with exercise is to visit a professional physical therapist that specializes in pain treatment. Then you’ll have the assurance that the exercises you’re doing won’t further injure your back or aggravate your pain.

As for simply copying a friend’s back exercises and stretches — even if they have the same diagnosis as you — I strongly discourage this. You would never consider taking someone else’s prescription medication; it was written especially for them. An exercise plan created by a physical therapist is a prescription, so you shouldn’t take it as your own plan. In fact, doing exercises that were intended for someone else may actually aggravate your spinal condition.

I recommend making an appointment with a physical therapist experienced in pain treatment; your doctor should be able to refer you to one. With a physical therapist, you will learn exercises and stretches that may help reduce your pain from spinal stenosis. How many times you need to visit the PT is determined by your needs, but keep in mind that the ultimate goal is teaching you self-care techniques you can safely do at home.

This article was featured in the Spine Advisor Back & Neck Pain Newsletter. The clinician response was provided by Amy Rice, MSPT of the Center for Pain Management.

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