Back Pain: Words of Wisdom from a Physical Therapist

athletic man holds lower back in pain
Matt Rogers_2021
PT, DPT
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I am one of many physical therapists who have had bouts of chronic back pain for years. 

I know what you’re thinking: “Aren’t PTs supposed to be pain-free because they know how to move and exercise?” That sounds great. But the reality is that PTs are one of the more common professionals to have back pain. However, PTs also have one of the lowest rates of missing work when we are in pain. Why is that? We understand pain and respect it, but we don’t fear it.

What causes back pain?

When I consistently follow the advice that I give my patients and stick to a well-rounded exercise routine including cardio, resistance training and stretching, I tend to feel good and my back pain is resolved. However, like a lot of people, I go through periods of time during which it is hard to get my exercise in due to work and family reasons. Those times correlate to an increase in low back pain. 

Also, looking back, I recognize that when I am under a particularly high amount of stress from a life event, I have more acute episodes of low back pain. And when the stress is more difficult to manage, resolving the episodes of pain can take longer.

One could argue that most low back pain can be connected to two things:

  1. A poor ability to protect tissues that can become irritable 
  2. An imbalance in muscle development causing compression of joints with painful tight muscles

Is there a solution for back pain?

One strategy in particular that I have found to be the most helpful in addressing lower back pain is to maintain adequate strength with weightlifting, which can directly help with the two back pain causes mentioned above.

A balanced approach to weightlifting is recommended and should include strategies that target multiple joints and muscles on the front and back of the body. If you are new to lifting weights or are unsure of how to return to weightlifting after an injury or due to pain, a physical therapist is a great resource. 

A PT will be able to evaluate your situation and work with you to create an exercise program best suited to your unique needs. Additionally, as musculoskeletal experts, physical therapists are the ideal professional to help you learn skills to manage your pain and build confidence as you return to lift.

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6 tips for strength training as a back pain solution!

Here are my words of wisdom — from a seasoned weightlifter, physical therapist, and strength & conditioning coach:

  1. Lift weights but make smart transitions with trained professionals helping you in your journey.
  2. Don’t be afraid of pain and don’t use it as an excuse to not move.
  3. Work with a physical therapist to screen you to make sure you are appropriate for lifting and to help you understand your pain better.
  4. Once you are ready to lift, work with a professional like a personal trainer or strength & conditioning coach to learn how to lift properly and safely.
  5. Stay in contact with your physical therapist throughout the journey, too. We often help you course-correct to continue to lift safely.
  6. Find ways to manage your stress. It may include exercise but think outside the box and think of things you like that calm your system such as reading or music.

Additional Resources

Back and Neck Pain Care

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