Back injuries and physical therapy (PT) often go hand in hand. PT in all its various forms is one of the most common treatment and recovery recommendations for back injury patients. This is primarily because it’s a highly customized approach to stimulating spine-supporting muscles and encouraging productive healing and recovery. But how long should PT last, and when is it safe to end it? Here’s what you need to know about physical therapy for a back injury to answer these questions.
How long your physical therapy program will last is something that’s usually discussed when you first meet with a physical therapist. This is also when you should set clear goals based on what you want to accomplish with PT. Once you reach your goals, it’s a good time to talk about wrapping up your sessions. PT goals related to a back injury might include:
• Returning to a pre-injury level of competitiveness • Walking or standing without pain • Safely resuming work-related duties • Reducing or eliminating distracting symptoms • Getting back to a previous level of activity
Some people abruptly stop physical therapy because of frustration with progress. This is definitely not the way to end PT—unless you want to increase your odds of reinjuring your back. Instead, be flexible about how far you’ll need to go with PT by setting both long-term goals and smaller realistic goals you can achieve within a fairly short time. Achieving your short-term goals can also provide more incentive to keep going until you reach a point where it makes sense to end PT. If their PT follows post-injury surgical treatment, such as transforaminal interbody fusion, Santa Monica patients should follow their surgeons’ instructions about when to stop PT.
The best way to really know when it’s time to end physical therapy for a back injury is to have ongoing conversations with your physical or rehab therapist. Provide honest feedback after each session to let your therapist know if you’re noticing improvement. If you’re not, adjustments may be made to put together a routine that’s more effective for you. Once you’ve progressed as far as what’s realistically possible, you should be able to safely end your PT program.
If you feel you’ve reached a plateau or your personal peak with your physical therapy progress, talking to your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon before calling it quits with PT will allow you to determine if there are any other treatments you haven’t yet considered or tried. In some situations, exploring new treatments may increase your response to physical therapy. Otherwise, you should be able to safely end your PT program once it’s determined you’ve likely improved as much as possible.
Just because physical therapy comes to an end doesn’t mean you have to stop being active. There are plenty of other effective and fun ways to stimulate the same spine-supporting muscle groups targeted by therapeutic PT exercises. Activities such as running, walking, biking, and swimming and gentler forms of exercise such as yoga, Pilates, and water aerobics can also prevent back injuries.
Most of all, be patient and follow the advice of your physical therapist and/or spine specialist to maximize your chances of recovering fully. If you’ve injured your back or you’re experiencing severe or prolonged back pain, call on the spinal health pioneers at The Spine Institute. Our experienced physicians lead the industry in using the most innovative methods to diagnose and treat back pain so patients can get back to enjoying life to the fullest. To schedule a consultation, give us a call today at 310-828-7757.