Let me tell you about a past physical therapy patient who saw me in our Bethesda and McLean facilities. We’ll call him John. John is a hard-working guy that had been struggling with back pain for years. It started with pain while weight training and eventually prevented him from standing for more than 20 minutes at one time. His inability to stand was a major problem because his job required him to be on his feet constantly.
He had been to doctors, physical therapists, and chiropractors. He tried foam rolling, changing his desk setup, and even those strange massage gun-looking things.
That is when he came to see me for a more “sports approach” to physical therapy.
I began our session by asking him questions about his back; I could sense that he had heard them before. But my following questions grabbed his attention.
He had not received these questions before, and I asked about his sleep habits, use of technology, and stress. These questions created our “aha moment” as we realized the following areas needed to improve if he wanted to conquer his back pain in physical therapy.
A Poor Night’s Sleep
Sleep is the best recovery tool that we have. Research has shown that sleep quality improves outcomes in chronic pain patients, especially with back pain.
We first made sure that John had a high-quality mattress. A poor-quality bed can leave your back feeling worse due to a lack of support. Most people with back pain tolerate a firmer mattress best. Be sure to test multiple mattresses and determine the best and most comfortable ones.
John’s final sleeping recommendation was simple—no more sleeping on his stomach. Sleeping on your stomach increases the compression on your lower back. Sleeping on your side or back can be extremely challenging when you are not used to it. But it will become much easier over time.
Addiction to Technology
John was spending way too much time looking at screens.
According to recent research, the average person spends about nine hours per day using electronic devices, which increases tension in several areas, like the lower back.
We started by setting realistic limits on John’s use of technology. We gave him a technology curfew of 9 pm (he couldn’t use his phone after 9 pm). Phones, iPads, and TVs contain blue light, suppressing melatonin production, a hormone essential for quality sleep.
The body is resilient, but it can only handle so much physical and emotional stress. Research indicates that people struggling with anxiety and depression are more likely to experience a few orthopedic pains, including lower back pain.
After discussing this with John, he mentioned that he had enjoyed meditation but didn’t have enough time to keep it up. Because he enjoyed meditating, I suggested he try one of the many great apps with short, 5-minute meditations.
Suppose meditation doesn’t work for you. No big deal! Search for one thing you enjoy, which reduces your stress, and implement that into your daily routine. Walking outside does that for me. Rain or shine, I ensure I get at least a couple of walks in a day.
As John worked to address these issues, we created a comprehensive physical therapy plan to help his back. Combining all these factors allowed him to recover and return to work and his active lifestyle fully.
Back pain is a complex issue, influenced by many factors. But that is a good thing because that provides many ways that experts can help. If you have back pain that won’t go away, don’t hesitate to contact us so that we can help you find solutions.