Frequently Asked Questions About Back Pain
We asked Summit Orthopedics physical therapist Amanda Feeney, DPT, OCS, to share what questions her patients ask most often about back pain — and how she answers them.
Amanda Feeney, DPT, OCS, one of Summit’s expert team of physical therapists, knows back pain. She helps patients every day recover from injury or surgery, getting them back to the best possible function. We asked her to share her patients’ top five most frequently asked questions about back pain.
Back pain question 1: Should I avoid doing an activity because it hurts?
It depends on the condition, but in general, hurt does not equal harm. While it’s important not to push yourself too hard, in the context of your physical therapy exercises, it’s important to expect some discomfort. “People are fearful of pain, and they try to avoid it, which can create more dysfunction and more pain,” Feeney said. Your physical therapist can help you keep the pain appropriate.
Back pain question 2: Should I rest to treat my back pain?
Research shows that movement promotes healing when it is gentle. “Don’t push through pain, but bed rest is not advised for back pain anymore,” Feeney said.
Walking, or another type of gentle movement, will help you heal faster. “You want to do whatever you can do to help start the process of feeling better, and you’ll typically recover faster with active healing rather than sedentary bed rest,” Feeney said.
Back pain question 3: How can I avoid back surgery?
Another common question about back pain is how to avoid needing surgery. Many physical therapy patients are there, in part, because they want to avoid back surgery — and physical therapy can certainly help with that goal. “With chronic back pain, it’s common to have little flare-ups. Once you’ve done some treatment, like some PT, you know what to do to get things calmed back down,” Feeney said.
Because physical therapy can help individuals develop strategies to get back on track, it can help prevent chronic back pain from progressing to the point where surgery is the only option.
Back pain question 4: What is the core, and why is it important?
“Core” is a catchall term for everything around your midsection: your abdominals, your back muscles, and your glutes. The muscle groups in your core all connect to and stabilize the back, so strengthening the core helps to control back pain.
“We promote core strengthening for back pain in particular to stabilize the spine. This keeps the spine controlled and happy during daily function,” Feeney said.
Back pain question 5: What should I expect from physical therapy?
Physical therapy starts with an assessment of your muscle strength, tightness, joint stiffness, and posture. “Our treatment is based on those results and tailored to the individual,” Feeney said.
Individual treatment plans may include core-strengthening exercises, joint mobilization, at-home exercise plans, dry needling, and instructions with videos or handouts to help guide you through your home program routine. Your physical therapist will also talk with you about ways to modify activities to reduce stress on your back. And of course, your physical therapist can answer your specific questions about back pain.
Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise
Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action, including answering your questions about back pain.
More resources for you:
Summit spine specialist Catherine Choi, M.D., discusses how to avoid losing muscle mass if you have long-term back pain.
Exercise is one of the best preventative measures we can take to maintain good health. Generally, exercise increases physical strength and improves longevity. Specific exercises can also address and improve many types of spine pain.