BY // JENNIFER KREFT
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), back pain is the most common reason for job-related disability and a big contributor to people missing work. As the single leading cause of disability worldwide, it prevents sufferers from engaging in everyday activities, affecting quality of life. While back pain is rarely an emergency unless it persists for several days, results in leg weakness or affects bowel or bladder function, there is no need for prolonged suffering. With the individualized treatment of Hurley’s physical therapy services, patients can often achieve pain relief and healing while having their function and movement restored.
Kevin Jason, a doctor of physical therapy at Hurley, says 50 percent of the pain experienced by the patients he sees at Hurley Family Rehabilitation Center can be attributed to low back pathology. Low back pain is slightly more prevalent in women compared to men, Jason says. While his patient base at Hurley Family Rehabilitation is consistent, there is a noticeable surge at two times during the year. One occurs right after New Year’s Day, the second after summer is over. He theorizes that people might be putting off being seen until the fall, when they have “more time.” Yet back pain that interferes with normal activities should be addressed before it leads to worse problems.
The most common issues that affect patients at Hurley Family Rehabilitation are arthritis or bulging disks. Symptoms include localized pain that radiates to legs, spasms, burning and tingling legs. Sitting or standing too long triggers the pain in many patients. Some also have a hard time finding a comfortable sleeping position, which disrupts their rest.
The team at Hurley Family Rehabilitation Center can treat all these issues and more, as they are qualified to help a wide range of patients, including those recovering from strokes. Their approach features a comprehensive program that begins on-site and extends to the patient’s home. At the initial evaluation, patients should come prepared to discuss the history of the problem and their symptoms. The staff are trained to recognize and correct improper habits either in posture or movement. They can assess how patients are moving and from there devise a personalized treatment plan.
On-site treatment includes teaching patients exercises such as “Long Arc Quad” (in a seated position, you straighten your knee as you raise your foot upwards), “Seated Marching,” “Bridging” (forming a “bridge” with your body while lying on your back), “Hamstring Stretch with Towel” (a stretch that requires hooking a towel or strap under your foot while drawing up your leg), and many others. The PT team also performs soft tissue mobilization, which is a form of massage that targets muscles, tendons, ligaments or other connective tissue. They offer joint mobilization as well, where the physical therapist moves the patient’s joints with passive motion in a specific direction. Other treatments are electro-stimulation and traction. Their bag of tricks also includes tried and true techniques such as applying hot packs or ice at 15 to 20 minute intervals.
“Our main goal is to try to get our patients as functional as possible,” Jason says. “A lot of our patients come to therapy when they start to notice that they are no longer able to do the activities they are used to because of their pain.”
Once home, back pain patients are advised to continue the exercises they learned in therapy, keeping in mind that the same behaviors that can ward off back pain before it happens will help maintain the progress made in therapy. These activities consist of “just walking, staying active, good posture, anything that’s going to increase core strength, daily stretching,” Jason says. The better patients adhere to their program, the less chance there will be of a recurrence in their back issues.
The results speak for themselves, which is why most healthcare professionals advocate trying nonsurgical options over surgery to address back pain.
“We usually recommend that you exhaust all conservative measures before you go under the knife,” Jason advises. While many surgeons use minimally invasive techniques, the recovery time can be up to three or four months, and there is no guarantee that pain will be improved. As always, it is best to discuss risks and benefits with your surgeon—and consider getting a second opinion. In the meantime, it’s good to know that physical therapy is a viable treatment option, especially with the individualized care that the team at Hurley provides.
“We focus the patient’s exercises to address their deficits,” Jason says. “We offer support in the forms of direct care and a thorough and well-constructed home exercise program. This not only helps the patient get to where they want to in the short term, but also leaves them with the tools necessary to stay successful with their recovery when therapy is over.”
Hurley offers physical therapy at Hurley Family Rehabilitation Center, 810-262-2000; Hurley SportsCare (two locations: Insight Fitness Center, 810-262-2285 and in the Pierson Road YMCA in Flushing, 810-262-7896); Hurley Physical Therapy-Park Plaza, 810-262-7899; Hurley Physical Therapy & Aquatic Center in Lapeer, 810-262-7891; and at the hospital’s main campus, 810- 262-6754.