Holy Name Medical Center Blog

Take Back Control of
Your Life:

Understanding Low Back Pain

Posted by Christopher J. Cordero, PT, DPT, OCS
Physical Therapist
Board-certified Clinical Specialist, Orthopedic Physical Therapy
HNH Fitness, Center for Physical Rehabilitation on December 11, 2020

Low back pain is one of the most common reasons an individual will see his/her physician. Low back pain can be a debilitating condition affecting your ability to function and perform normal activities of daily living. It is also a disorder that costs our healthcare system billions of dollars a year to diagnose and treat.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation surrounding low back pain. This misinformation leads millions of Americans down the rabbit hole to chronic pain, unnecessary surgical procedures, and an overutilization of aggressive medications. Fortunately, there is a lot of positive research out there that not everyone is aware of – not even your Uncle Paul, who knows everything!

Here is some helpful information about how to deal with your low back pain, so you can begin to take back control of your life.

Not All Low Back Pain is the Same

In medicine, there is rarely a one-size-fits-all approach. That is especially true for patients with low back pain. Back pain can originate for many reasons. At The Center for Physical Rehabilitation, we most commonly observe a pattern consisting of a slow, gradual breakdown of tissue throughout the body, specifically affecting the spine.

This condition is most likely caused by not practicing proper “back hygiene.” This may include sitting with poor posture for long periods of time, bending and/or lifting with poor body mechanics, not staying active or exercising daily, or carrying excess weight around your midsection, which your spine now has to support.

Observing “back hygiene” also includes having a rock solid core, or musculature supporting your spine. Think of your muscles as your body’s natural brace. If you are new to core training or could use a refresher, check out Physical Therapy Core Training and Progressions for safe, evidence-based exercises.

How did this happen?

Some patients are unable to recall exactly what caused their low back pain, while others may be able to pinpoint exactly what happened to them. You sit for eight hours straight, five days a week in your “home office” consisting of a terribly unsupportive couch and laptop on your coffee table. You were carrying your brand-new spin bike down a narrow flight of stairs with Uncle Mike and forgot your cat loves to take naps on the last step. You were on your toes reaching for a bowl from a high cabinet when you just twisted the wrong way.

You can see how there is rarely one single scenario or series of events that can lead to low back pain. Therefore, there is rarely just one pill, one stretch, or one back crack that can fix your problem.

Help! What Do I Do?

If you experience low back pain, take the first 24 to 72 hours to practice “active rest.” Active rest is taking the necessary steps to calm your pain, avoiding painful postures or activities. Active rest also promotes safe movement, no matter how small or simple the movement.

I use the term active rest because remaining completely bedridden for even a day or two can cause dramatic set-backs or compensations that will prolong your back pain. It is important to listen to your body, giving it just enough rest to recover, but just enough movement to prevent your body from getting tight, weak, or dysfunctional. For some, this may mean going for a brisk walk outside. For others, this may mean going from a lying, to a seated, to a standing position every five minutes.

If you find that nothing is helping your pain, physical therapists are extremely good at finding tolerable positions, exercises, or hands-on techniques that can relieve your symptoms. Physical therapists are also skilled at recognizing what your body needs at specific points throughout your healing process. Utilize their services if your pain becomes persistent or worsens over time (one to two weeks), does not improve with active rest, or causes a decrease of function in your life.

Finally, if you are experiencing any of the following “red flag” symptoms, you should go to the emergency department or an orthopedic spine specialist immediately:

  1. Severe, constant pain that does not change within a 24-hour period
  2. Severe, constant night pain
  3. Changes in bowel or bladder activity
  4. Numbness in the saddle region (groin, buttocks, inner thighs)
  5. Rapidly worsening neurological symptoms, such as loss of sensation or loss of strength in one or both legs

Christopher J. Cordero, PT, DPT, OCS, is a physical therapist and board-certified specialist in orthopedic physical therapy by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Dr. Cordero practices at HNH Fitness and also trains athletes of all ages and abilities with a focus on implementing evidence-based injury prevention techniques and developing proper body mechanics. Dr. Cordero finds passion in the clinical and educational aspects of physical therapy, using manual orthopedic techniques and exercise to help patients regain function in their lives.

Dr. Cordero can be reached by email at ccordero@holyname.org..
Call to schedule an appointment at 201-265-1076.
HNH Fitness | 514 Kinderkamack Road | Oradell, NJ | 07649