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Physical therapist speaks about back pain at ACH Lecture Luncheon

March 24, 2016

Physical therapist speaks about back pain at ACH Lecture Luncheon

By SAMANTHA ECKERTSpecial to The Review Published: March 23, 2016 3:00 AM
Staying active is the best solution for preventing back pain and maintaining back strength, according to Eric O'Brien, a physical therapist at Alliance Community Hospital (ACH), who spoke at the monthly ACH Lecture Luncheon Friday.

O'Brien, PT, MS, OCS, believes simple stretching and strengthening can help a person live a better, more comfortable life. He said that 80 percent of the population has to deal with some form of back pain and that proper activity is essential to good back health.

"Physical therapists are here to serve you, but we would rather see you out and about at the grocery store or restaurant than here at the clinic," O'Brien said. "Our job is to educate you on the best solution for you because each case is different. It is our job to customize a program that is geared toward the individual."

O'Brien recommends that patients, prior to each appointment, write down the questions they want answered to get the most out of their visits, "because it is easy to come into an appointment and forget what you want answered," said O'Brien.

O'Brien said he sees a lot of patients who are trying to deal with pain due to herniated discs, arthritis and sciatica issues.

"Constantly sitting, bending over, working hard and getting older will cause back pain, but with our custom programs we can help strengthen the body and improve flexibility, which will help with back pain, regardless of the diagnosis," he said. "Exercises, like walking, are great to get active, but if you are just getting into the active life there are alternatives that can be less aggressive on the back."

O'Brien said some of the less aggressive, effective strategies include water therapy and workouts like tai chi or yoga.

These less aggressive strategies are especially effective after a hospital stay for back surgery. "For each day spent lying in the hospital, it will take three days to gain back strength," O'Brien said. "It takes a long time to build up muscle, so activities like water therapy, Tai Chi and yoga are great ways to build strength without the worry of injury."
According to O'Brien, patients at Alliance Community Hospital are evaluated by physical therapy staff through an assessment of motion preference to classify the client's pain. Simple motions like bending over can help the physical therapist detect, for example, if there is a herniated disc or muscle weakness.
There are many individualized programs O'Brien and the staff offer, such as a stabilization program that helps strengthen the patient's abdominal and back muscles, which affect most people who sit too much. Another option is a traction program that helps clients deal with arthritis. Over time, this program will stretch the spine, allowing relief between the discs, according to O'Brien.

O'Brien emphasized that visits to the clinic need to be accompanied by exercises at home for a plan to be successful. For morning exercisers, he recommends waiting an hour after waking up to get the body functioning before launching into an exercise regimen. He recommended evening exercisers should allow a three-hour window before bed to ensure proper downtime before sleeping.

O'Brien admitted that while physical therapists can provide the guidance and support, the onus of having a healthy back falls on the patient. "As a physical therapist I am here to listen because you know your body better than anyone else," he said. "I simply take the information you give and create a customized plan for you."

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