Back pain is among the most debilitating pains that you can experience. The back is a complicated network of bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles. You can sprain ligaments, strain muscles, rupture discs, and irritate joints. Unfortunately, all of these injuries can lead to extreme back pain. Gymnasts are known for their agility and are subject to various injuries. Therefore you may be asking: “Where can I find a good physical therapist who works with gymnasts near me?” After all, if a physical therapist keeps gymnasts in fine form and function, they can surely deal with your back pain, correct? Now, let’s talk about what you need to know about managing your back pain with physical therapy.
Exploring Back Pain
Back pain can be wide-ranging in symptoms. It can be a muscle ache to a sharp, burning, or impaling sensation. Also, the pain may travel down to your legs and make bending, twisting, lifting, standing, and walking very difficult.
While most back pain episodes slowly improve with home remedies and self-care, this is not always the case. You should seek medical attention if your back pain:
- Lasts more than a few weeks
- Is severe and resting your back doesn’t lower the pain you feel
- Extends into one or both legs (particularly if the pain radiates below the knee)
- Creates weakness, numbness, or tingling in one or both legs
- Is also followed by unexplained weight loss
Although rare, back pain can indicate a serious medical issue. You must seek immediate treatment if your back pain:
- Leads to new and unusual bowel and bladder problems
- Is also accompanied by a fever or hot flashes
- Comes after a fall, a blow to your back, or some other injury
What Causes Back Pain?
Oftentimes, back pain arises without any apparent cause that your physician can readily identify via a test or x-ray. Several conditions may cause back pain:
- Strained muscle or ligament: Continuous heavy lifting or sudden awkward movements may strain your back muscles and spinal ligaments. If you are not in the best physical shape, then the persistent strain on your back may cause painful muscle spasms.
- Bulging or ruptured discs: The discs serve as cushions between the vertebrae (or bones) in your spine. But the soft material inside a disc can bulge or rupture and impact a nerve. It is possible to have a bulging or ruptured disc without any back pain. disc disease is often discovered in spinal x-rays for other conditions.
- Arthritis: Osteoarthritis may affect your lower back. Furthermore, spinal arthritis may also result in a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, a health condition called spinal stenosis.
- Osteoporosis: This condition arises when your spine’s vertebrae suffer painful fractures as a result of your bones becoming porous and brittle.
Risk Factors for Back Pain
While anyone (including children and teens) can experience back pain, certain factors increase the likelihood. These risk factors include:
- Age: Back pain tends to get more common as you get older. The onset of age-related back pain may begin at around 30 or 40 years of age.
- Insufficient exercise: If the muscles in your back and abdomen are weak or unused, then you may suffer from back pain.
- Overweight: If you have excess body weight, then this places more stress on your back.
- Diseases: Certain types of arthritis and cancer may contribute to back pain.
- Psychological issues: If you are vulnerable to depression and anxiety, then back pain may be more likely.
- Incorrect lifting: If you use your back to lift heavy objects instead of your legs, then you may experience back pain.
- Smoking: Persons who smoke may also be at a greater risk of back pain. Smoking leads to more coughing, and that can lead to herniated discs. Also, smoking decreases blood flow to the spine and makes osteoporosis more likely.
How Gymnastics Physical Therapists Can Help With Your Back Pain
Gymnastics is a beautiful yet dangerous sport. With the many injuries that these athletes encounter, a physical therapist is an indispensable resource. Similarly, a physical therapist can help you with your back pain and other needs.
There are two components of physical therapy for back pain: passive physical therapy and active exercises.
Passive Physical Therapy
A physical therapist may seek to reduce your back pain using passive physical therapy or modalities. A modality refers to a type of thermal, mechanical, or electrical energy that generates physiological changes in your body. It is often used to reduce pain and swelling, improve circulation, minimize muscle spasms, and deliver treatment. This approach is passive as these activities are done to you, the patient.
Some of these modalities are:
Heat and Cold Therapy
Heat and cold therapy is the most frequently-used modality to alleviate muscle spasms and inflammation. Some individuals may experience more relief with heat treatment (like heating pads and paraffin wax), while others may prefer cold therapy (like an ice massage). Also, the two may be used alternately. Each one is usually applied for 10 to 20 minutes once every two hours. This modality is often most useful in the early stages of a back pain episode.
This modality delivers steroids through your skin. First, the steroid is applied and then an electrical current is used to cause the topical treatment to absorb into the layers of your skin. Iontophoresis is often used in cases of acute pain. It alleviates inflammation in an area, softens scars, and minimizes calcium deposits in the joints.
Electrotherapy Using a TENS Unit
A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator (TENS) unit applies electrical stimulation to regulate your sensation of lower-level back pain. It works by overriding the pain signals that would be sent to your brain.
At first, your medical professional will do an electrotherapy trial using the TENS unit. If you experience a lot of pain relief, then you will be allowed to use a TENS unit at home for moderate back pain relief for the long-term.
Ultrasound applies high-frequency sound waves to the skin to promote deep tissue heating. This modality is useful for acute or severe pain and muscle spasm. It promotes circulation and helps relax tight muscles or soft tissue in preparation for stretching.
Phonophoresis uses ultrasound to push topical medications into the soft tissue below your skin. These medications are generally a type of cortisone and xylocaine and are used to treat localized inflammations such as heel spurs and tendonitis.
This modality uses a modulated force to carefully stretch your body while you are lying down. This stretching is done lengthwise (longitudinally) or by stretching your body apart (or distracting the spine).
Traction can be used on both the cervical and lumbar sections of your spine. It uses a neck halter (or a lumbar spine) and pelvic belt combination along with a machine for this purpose. This modality can also be done manually.
Traction relieves the pressure on your compressed nerves and reduces the pain and inflammation.
Low-Level Laser Therapy
Low-level laser therapy uses a red-beam light to find impedances or resistance in the tissue. It is often used along with electronic stimulation modalities to help alleviate acute and chronic problems like edema, scar tissue, and pain management.
Functional Dry Needling
Trained physical therapists perform dry needling with several monofilament needles. These serve to relax your myofascial trigger points (tight muscles), reduce pain, and improve your range of motion.
Active Physical Therapy
The stability of your back (especially the lower back) is dependent on the strength of your core. The core consists of your abdominal and the lower back muscles.
Abdominal muscles offer the initial stabilizing support by generating pressure in the abdomen that transfers posteriorly on the spine. This creates anterior support along the front of the spine.
The lower back muscles stabilize your spine from the back, which gives posterior support. Your spine contains bony discs surrounded by muscles. Therefore, the stronger these muscles are, the less stress will be placed on the discs and joints of your spine. Ideally, you want to have a strong muscle “belt” around your spine.
While passive physical therapy goes a long way, you also need active physical therapy to rehabilitate your spine. A great active physical therapy back exercise program should contain the following elements:
Stretches work wonders as a part of any back pain exercise regimen. The correct stretching of your muscles coupled with active exercises will:
- Help to maintain your normal range of motion
- Relieve muscles affected by disuse atrophy (or shrinking muscles from no active use)
- Relieve muscle spasm arising from poor posture or nerve irritation
These stretches should target the back muscles, abdominal muscles, hips, and legs (mainly the hamstrings). These are best performed at the same time each day so that they become a part of your daily routine. Also, some patients may require an individualized stretching routine that is created for them by a physical therapist.
Back Strengthening Exercises
A good back-strengthening exercise regimen should include 15 to 20 minutes of prescribed exercises including dynamic lumbar stabilization performed every other day. Dynamic stabilization uses a variety of exercises (including certain stabilizing exercises), exercise balls, and balancing machines. The objective of dynamic stabilization is to strengthen the spine’s secondary muscles and support them through a varying range of motions.
Core strengthening exercises are targeted at strengthening your abdominal muscles and low back muscles (or erector spinae). These provide the previously mentioned “belt of muscle” to support and protect your spine. These exercises usually include:
- Special abdominal strengthening exercises like sit-ups, crunches, leg raises. They also utilize abdominal machines.
- These low back exercises (or hyperextensions) can be done on machines. Or, you can lie on your stomach and slowly raise your chest off the ground. This helps your lower back muscles to hyperextend your spine.
- “Good-mornings” also strengthen your lower back muscles. You would stand with legs straight and shoulder-width apart, holding a broom-stick or a weighted bar across your shoulders. Then slowly bend forward until your face is parallel to the ground, and then raise back up. This is similar to bending forward to touch the toes except you balance a weighted object across your shoulders.
These exercises should be done correctly to see results. Muscle strengthening is best done under the guidance of a physical therapist.
Low-Impact Aerobic Conditioning
Low-impact aerobics is useful for long-term pain reduction. There are several options available like walking, bicycling, swimming, and water therapy. These exercises should be done for 30 to 40 minutes, three times per week, on alternate days between your dynamic strengthening exercises.
Even if you have a busy schedule, you should have sufficient time to maintain a moderate back pain exercise regimen. It should include stretching, strengthening, and aerobic conditioning.
Aquatic Physical Therapy
Some physical therapy facilities may provide aquatic (or water) physical therapy. The water supports the body and minimizes gravity’s impact, which makes it easier for you to begin an exercise program. Aquatic therapy is most suitable for elderly and disabled patients who may not be able to perform some of the necessary exercises outside of the aquatic environment.
Another type of active physical therapy exercise is lumbar traction (although its effectiveness is debatable). In this method, you would lie on your back, and then you are secured on a special table using a cable originating from the foot-end of the table that is attached to a strap that’s placed around your hips.
This cable is also attached to weights at the end of the table to provide a persistent, but gentle pulling force on your hips toward the table’s end. The traction serves to relieve pressure on the disc space and muscles in your lumbar spine. This helps your back to recuperate as your muscles can rest.
Troubleshooting: Why Exercise May Not Work
Patients may stop doing their therapeutic exercises either because it hurts their backs, or the pain relief is inadequate. Why may this occur? There are a few reasons:
- The program may not include sufficient active physical therapy exercises. If there is little emphasis on muscle training and more focus on passive physical therapy, then there is immediate pain relief. However, this pain relief may not be lasting without being combined with active physical therapy.
- Patients may also perform the exercises incorrectly, and they fail to get the desired results. Then, they require a more detailed inspection by a physical therapist to detect and correct errors in exercise performance.
- Patients may fail to adhere to the recommended exercise program. If a patient doesn’t perform the exercises as instructed, then they will not get the expected results. Therefore, continued adherence to these exercises is not just for the therapy period but also beyond. They will help strengthen your back, maintain correct posture, and safeguard against recurring pain.
Patients should keep up with their recommended physical therapy regimen. This should include important core and dynamic stabilization exercises. Then, transition into other exercises, such as low-impact aerobic and weight-lifting exercises that will ease the pressure off of your spine.
Although some people may experience success from undergoing physical therapy, it may not last. The reason is, people often strengthen their abdominal and back muscles as they complete physical therapy. However, after physical therapy, the patients fail to maintain their exercise routines at home. This leads to a slow loss of fitness and a recurrence of the previous back pain (or even worse). Therefore, once you complete physical therapy, you should develop and maintain an exercise program at home. This will help you to maintain the strength and muscle mass you gained from your therapy sessions.
Do You Need Physical Therapy?
We have answered your question: “Why should I find a good physical therapist who works with gymnasts near me?” If you are in the Shelton, CT area, then visit Moving With Hope! We have expert physical therapists and other professionals. Furthermore, we will work with your existing medical team to ensure that you get the best healthcare. Contact us today to begin the journey to a healthier, happier future!