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Understanding Physical Therapy for Back Pain Relief

One of the first questions most back pain sufferers ask is what is the best treatment for my back pain? A common assumption is that surgery will be required. However, here at Saratoga Spine, less than 85% of our patients require surgery. Instead, the majority of our patients respond to non-surgical treatment options. In a previous article we discussed the use of anti-inflammatories for back pain. In this article we’ll discuss another common treatment option, physical therapy for back pain relief.

Physical Therapy for Back Pain Relief - An Article by Saratoga Spine - Spine Doctors providing service in Saratoga Springs, Albany, Glens Falls and the North Country NY

Why is Physical Therapy a Common Treatment for Back Pain?

There are several reasons physical therapy is a common treatment for back pain:

Less Risk of Complications than with Surgery

Any surgery comes with inherent risks. Back surgery is no different. The process of sedation carries its own risks. Also, there are risks of complication during surgery or infection afterwards. Also, those that opt for back surgery run the risk of having to have repeat surgery. Conversely, the risks associated with physical therapy are fewer and less severe.

Physical Therapy May Be Just as Effective as Surgery

Recent studies have found that physical therapy can be just as effective as surgical options for those with spinal stenosis. (Spinal stenosis is the condition in which the spinal cavity narrows over time resulting in pressure on the nerves and pain.)

Physical Therapy can Teach the Patient Prevention Methods

Unfortunately, some of the things we do every day can lead to spinal problems. Poor posture or continuous activities (ie: sitting for long periods of time) can impact the spine and result in pain. With physical therapy, the patient is taught correct posture and exercises to help stretch and strengthen muscles. These techniques not only help in the treatment of back pain but can also be effective in preventing further deterioration of the spine and pain2.

Types of Physical Therapy for Back Pain Relief

There are two types of physical therapy for back pain sufferers1:

When most people think of physical therapy they think of active physical therapy in which the patient is performing stretches and exercises. These are treatment options in which the patient is involved and participates in the treatment.

In contrast, passive physical therapy involves treatment options that are done to the patient. Some examples of passive physical therapy are hot / cold therapy and treatment through the use of electrotherapy (ie: TENS units).

Your doctor and physical therapist may try one or a combination of these methods depending on your symptoms and history.

The Goals of Physical Therapy

The method of physical therapy used may vary depending upon your individual goals and those agreed upon by you, your therapist and your doctor. Some examples of these goals are:

  • immediate pain relief
  • reducing inflammation to help with pain reduction
  • educate the patient with respect to proper posture
  • educate the patient about repetitive motions that may be harmful to the spine
  • increase spinal flexibility and range of motion
  • strengthen muscles which may help support the body during repetitive or high frequency motions thereby reducing the load on the spine

The physical therapy techniques best suited for you depend on your medical history, symptoms, daily activities and body structure. Your doctor and/or physical therapist can develop a plan to help reduce your current back pain, start the healing process and teach you methods for preventing future damage to your spine.

If you think physical therapy is right for you maybe it’s time to schedule an appointment with Dr. Herzog or Dr. Keshmiri. Give Saratoga Spine a call today.



  1. Spine-Health Article
  2. Cleveland Clinic
  3. WebMD
*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery