Back Pain

Virtually everyone has experienced back pain at some point in their life, whether at work or play. In fact, some estimates say half of all working Americans suffer from some back pain each year. For them, missing work because of this condition causes another pain - the kind you feel in your wallet. Today, many can look forward to a speedy recovery.

In the past 10 months, Park Nicollet physical therapists have streamlined the treatment of acute (sudden and severe) low back pain, use "Back pain costs this country billions of dollars, and our approach offers many patients relief after only two or three visits - and usually without medication," says Chris Kramer, PT, a physical therapist with Park Nicollet Clinic-Minneapolis.

Patients selected carefully

This approach puts research into practice. "Recent physical therapy research shows that when people with low back pain meet four of five criteria and receive spinal manipulation with a specifically designed exercise program, their probability of a significant decrease in pain and disability is greater than 90 percent," explains Bill Koch, PT, a physical therapist with Park Nicollet Clinic-Wayzata. This research studied people between ages 18 and 65.

Patients qualify for this treatment when they meet four of these five criteria:

back pain lasting less than 16 days
no pain below the knees
normal rotation of the hips
stiffness in the low back
a willingness to stay active during treatment

"It does not matter what sets off the back pain," Koch continues. "People with bulging discs, degenerative disease or simple muscle strain from cutting the grass or playing sports can be treated successfully as long as they meet four of these five criteria."

"The two strongest indicators for success are that patients have back pain lasting less than 16 days and have no pain below the knee, and this is what we want referring doctors to look for," Koch adds.

Manipulation plus exercise is key

Physical therapists treat patients who meet the criteria with spinal manipulation. "During the manipulation, patients lie on their backs and are rotated gently to one side so that therapists can put a little tension on their muscles and bones. This helps calm the nervous system and decrease pain," Koch explains.

"This manipulation often allows patients to resume exercise with less pain," Kramer explains. The exercise program, which targets the abdomen, lower back and hips, is developed by a physical therapist and is tailored for each patient. Most cases require three therapy visits and an independent exercise program of six weeks to eight weeks to prevent recurrence.

Since the program began, Park Nicollet physical therapists already have helped more than 100 patients overcome low back pain. "People with untreated back pain are eight times more likely to suffer from a disability," Kramer says. "For us, it is important to do all we can to help our patients."

Remarkable cost savings

Kramer recently treated a woman who had been suffering from back pain for about six weeks. "Before she was referred to me, she had been to the emergency room three times, which cost about $1,200, and each time she received Vicodin, a narcotic. After only one visit with this technique, she walked out virtually pain free."