Identifying Low Back Pain Causes…an Exercise in Futility for Most

Identifying the cause of your low back pain is usually difficult, but physical therapy is a universal solution to address most cases

When it comes to low back pain, there is an abundance of alarming statistics available that can help put the massive size of the problem in perspective. Here are a few key examples:

  • Low back pain is currently the number one cause of disability in the world
  • Every year, about 37% of the world’s population will experience low back pain
  • At any given point in time, about 540 million people are affected by low back pain globally
  • The amount of years of disability caused by low back pain since 1990 has increased by 54%

No One is Really Immune to Lower Back Pain

Research has also suggested that very few people are completely immune to the impact of low back pain. The number of individuals affected by it is actually highest in high-income countries, but rates are rapidly increasing in low- and middle-income countries throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East as well. And although low back pain is more common in women and older individuals than in other groups, it can affect just about anyone of any age. In fact, one study showed that 40% of 9-18-year olds throughout the world report having had low back pain.

But despite the incredibly high number of people with low back pain and all that’s known about it, this next fact may surprise you more than anything else: in the vast majority of patients, the actual cause of the pain cannot be identified. In some patients, problems like spine fractures, inflammation disorders, infection and cancer may be responsible, but for everyone else, the cause is not known, and they are classified as having “nonspecific low back pain.”

Additional Factors that Impact the Perception of Back Pain

For these individuals, there are several factors that might play a part in the development of their low back pain. These include:

  • Psychological factors like depression and anxiety,
  • Social factors like income and education levels, and
  • Inherited genetic factors.

People with chronic conditions like:

  • Asthma,
  • Headaches,
  • Diabetes,
  • Smokers, and
  • Individuals with Previous Episodes of Back Pain…

…are also more likely to experience low back pain than those who are in good health.

This may sound overwhelming and perhaps even dampen your spirits if you’re currently dealing with low back pain, but as physical therapists, we’d like you to know that the cause of your pain is not as important as you may think. Many people get hung up on the specific diagnosis of their pain and go on to have tests to determine the source of their problem. But as you can see, getting an accurate diagnosis is rare, and these tests may lead to unnecessary treatments like surgery for some.

Don’t Focus on the Cause of Lower Back Pain When It Can Rarely be Determined

Rather than focusing too much time on the diagnosis, physical therapy concentrates on addressing the problem starting with your very first session. Throughout movement-based therapies and exercises individualized according to your abilities and goals, we will work with you on a one-on-one basis and target your pain from many angles. We believe that movement is a key ingredient for reducing low back pain, and this is why we promote a more active lifestyle along with your treatment program from the get-go.

Current research is continuing to support physical therapy as an effective means to alleviate back pain, no matter the cause. In one recent study that reviewed current guidelines on the best treatments for low back pain, researchers recommended the following:

For many patients with nonspecific low back pain, simple first line care (advice, reassurance and self-management) and a review at 1-2 weeks is all that is required. If patients need second line care, non-pharmacological treatments like physical therapy should be tried before pharmacological therapies.

So if you’re dealing with low back pain, don’t waste your time worrying about what might be causing it. Instead, take action and see your physical therapist now for an evaluation and treatment plan that will address your issues and get you back to moving pain-free once again.

Take-home Messages:

  1. The cause of lower back pain can rarely be determined.
  2. 99% of lower back pain does NOT require surgery.
  3. YOUR BACK IS STRONG, RESILIENT, FLEXIBLE, AND STABLE
  4. The faster you start physical therapy, the better your outcome in almost all cases.

What are you waiting for?  The clinical research is clear and our expert clinicians here in Visalia and Hanford are ready to help.

Contact us today.

MRI for Lower Back Pain in Visalia – Why You Might Want to Avoid It

Seeing a Physical Therapist First and Avoiding an MRI  for Work-Related Lower Back Pain Will Often Lead to Better Outcomes

Of all regions of the body, the spine is associated with a much higher amount of pain than anywhere else. In fact, low back pain ranks second only behind the common cold for reasons to visit a doctor. Up to 80% of the general population will experience at least one episode of low back pain in their lives, so if your back is bothering you right now, you’re far from alone.  If you’ve experienced a work-related injury, and are looking want an MRI for lower back pain in Visalia, read on.  We think you will find this information valuable.

Lower Back Pain is a Common Work-Related Injury

For the majority of individuals with a history of low back pain, it’s easy to attest to the fact that the pain usually makes it more difficult to complete everyday tasks that you normally complete without even thinking about. It’s for this reason—and particularly when the pain is more intense—that low back pain is also one of the leading reasons that people miss work due to disability.

Low back pain can develop over time in a gradual manner or it may come about suddenly. For some, this leads to symptoms on a nearly constant basis, while for others, symptoms only arise every so often. Symptoms vary in each individual, but typically include the following: pain, tenderness and/or stiffness in the lower back, difficulty bending, lifting or twisting, weak or tired legs, difficulty sitting or standing for extended periods, and pain that spreads to the buttocks or legs.

False Positives with MRI’s are Common…Don’t Get Labelled as Having a Problem When It Doesn’t Exist

When an episode of low back pain first strikes, it’s categorized as acute, which is what most individuals experience.  Of those who experience a work-related back injury, many decide to seek out treatment for this pain… many go straight to their doctor for an evaluation and advice on what to do next. Unfortunately, this decision can prove to have some consequences that you might not expect. Some doctors will order additional tests like an MRI to better visualize what may be affecting your spine. But often times, the results from these tests will not help to improve the quality of treatment, and can instead lead to risky interventions like surgery.

To illustrate what may happen if you see a doctor first, one study investigated the effect of having an MRI on patients with work-related low back pain. Some of their key findings included:

  • A high percentage of people studied THAT WERE PAIN FREE, had a positive MRI
  • Reference here
  • Having an MRI was associated with a worse outcome in all patients who had one
  • Patients who had an MRI spent between $12,948-$13,816 more on medical costs than those who did not
  • Click here for the Reference

Costs are generally higher in patients who have an MRI because not only is the test itself expensive, but these patients are also more likely to be instructed to have treatments like surgery based on their results, which comes with its own set of risks. But there’s a much easier way of avoiding all of these costs in the first place: see a physical therapist first.

MRI Results Alone, Do Not Indicate the Cause of Lower Back Pain

In most cases, a physical therapist won’t send you to have an MRI for low back pain unless they think it’s completely necessary, which is rare. Instead of wasting time, needlessly suffering, waiting for results and being told to have potentially risky treatments first, you should try conservative, natural care first.  Our physical therapist will start treatment during your first visit and immediately work towards addressing your problem and alleviating your pain. So for any low back pain that’s hindering your enjoyment of life, see one of our physical therapists for the fastest and safest path to a full recovery of your abilities.

Call Us to Learn More.  Click here to visit our contact page.

Sciatica Treatment in Hanford

Low back pain, on its own, can be a major nuisance to everyday life.  But for some individuals, pain in the lower back may also be accompanied by pain and other symptoms that radiate out through the leg and possibly down to the toes.  This is called sciatica, which is one of the most bothersome conditions that can affect this region.  If you are looking for sciatica treatment in Hanford, please continue reading.  We hope this will help.

The sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in our bodies.  It starts in the lower spine and runs through the buttocks and into the thigh, all the way down to the foot.  This nerve serves an important role in communicating messages from the spinal cord to the legs and feet, and when it becomes damaged, sciatica results.

The term sciatica is not exactly a medical diagnosis itself, but instead, it’s used to describe a set of symptoms related to lower back issues.  Common problems affecting the lower back that can cause sciatica include a lumbar herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis and spinal stenosis.  When any of these conditions occur, the sciatic nerve may become either compressed or irritated, and this will eventually lead to the development of symptoms.

Sciatica Symptoms Vary Which Makes Treatment Difficult

Sciatica symptoms may differ from person to person, but some of the most common include:

  • Burning or stinging pain in the leg
  • Pain on one side of the buttock or leg pain that gets worse with sitting
  • Decreased muscle strength
  • Pain radiating down the leg that may also go into the foot
  • Weakness, numbness or difficulty moving the leg, foot or toes
  • Difficulty standing or walking due to symptoms

When compared with patients who have low back pain only, individuals with sciatica will generally have more persistent and severe pain, a worse prognosis and are disabled and absent from work for a longer period of time.  This highlights the need to effectively treat sciatica symptoms in addition to low back pain.  In the majority of cases, surgery is not necessary, and a comprehensive course of physical therapy is all that is needed to bring about significant benefits for patients.  These benefits of therapy can be seen in one study that applied a popular technique used by physical therapists called mobilization.  Here’s the conclusion of the study that demonstrated the value of physical therapist directed mobilizations:

Application of mobilization techniques for the sciatic nerves may promote healing of the soft tissues by stimulating the functions of the nervous system to improve nervous system adaptability and decrease sensitivity, helping to alleviate the symptoms.
Reference: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4755972/

So if low back and leg pain are holding you back from enjoying your life, it may be time to try physical therapy.  Contact our Visalia office or our Hanford office and set up a consultation with one of our expert physical therapists to find out more and start a program that will alleviate your pain and improve your function, so you can resume all the activities you’ve been missing out on.

Sciatica Treatment in Visalia

sciatica treatment in Visalia

If you are looking for sciatica treatment in Visalia, always see a physical therapist first for sciatica symptoms.

The sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in the entire body.  It runs from the each side of the lower spine through the buttock and into the thigh, all the way down to the foot.  This nerve serves an important role in communicating messages from the spinal cord to the legs and feet, and when it’s damaged, a problem called sciatica can come about.

Sciatica is not necessarily a medical diagnosis itself, but a set of symptoms that are related to an issue with the lower back.  Common lower back problems that can cause sciatica include a lumbar herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis and spinal stenosis.  In each of these conditions, the sciatic nerve becomes either irritated or compressed, which brings about symptoms.

The most common sciatica symptoms include the following:

  • Constant pain on only one side of the buttock or leg pain that gets worse with sitting
  • A burning, stinging or searing pain in the leg
  • Weakness, numbness or difficulty moving the leg, foot or toes
  • Pain that radiates down the leg and possibly into the foot
  • A sharp pain that makes it difficult to stand or walk

If you happen to notice any of these symptoms, you may be dealing with a lower back condition that is causing sciatica.  Although some individuals with sciatica may be under the impression that surgery is necessary to fix it, the truth is that physical therapy is usually just as effective and will save patients from many of the troubles of surgery.  In fact, the findings of a recent study show that both surgery and non-surgical (conservative) treatment that included physical therapy led to very similar results:

Surgical and conservative treatments had long-term beneficial effects on sciatica symptoms in patients with lumbar disc herniation.  Compared with conservative treatment, surgical treatment relieved back pain faster, but no relevant clinical difference was observed after three months.
Reference: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/12/e012938.full

This study shows that there is no added benefit of having surgery instead of physical therapy for sciatica symptoms.  On top of this, surgery is more expensive and associated with many more risks than physical therapy.  For these reasons, we strongly encourage you to choose physical therapy first if you happen to notice any symptoms of sciatica.

If you would like more information about how we can help, give us a call.

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