Functional Restoration May Mean Relief for Chronic Back Pain

Dec. 30, 2015


Back pain
is the single greatest cause of lost workdays in the United States. It is also one of the most likely reasons people visit a doctor.

Very often back pain is temporary and has no serious underlying medical cause, and no treatment is needed.

Sometimes, however, back pain is a result of an injury or a gradual degeneration of the spine. This pain can linger for months, or even years. Treatment for this kind of problem often includes medication, physical therapy and sometimes surgery.

But occasionally, the back pain persists even after treatment. When pain becomes long-lasting, or chronic, some interesting changes happen in both the body and the brain. Chronic pain activates the areas of the brain that manage mood, which can result in depression and anxiety. The pain itself becomes closely tied to feelings about the pain.

At the same time, a person with persistent pain will develop ways of moving, or not moving, to keep from aggravating the painful area. This lack of movement in turn leads to weaker muscles overall, which can result in—you guessed it—more pain. And more pain leads to more anxiety and depression.

A new therapy, increasingly used by physical therapists like Dr. Evan Johnson of The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York, is showing promise in treating chronic back pain—and breaking the cycle of pain and anxiety.

This therapy is called functional restoration, and it was recently featured in an article in The Wall Street Journal. The therapy addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of pain. And treatment programs have seen patients make what the article calls “dramatic” improvements in mood and functional abilities, even though the patients reported only a “modest” reduction in pain.

Functional restoration begins with exercises that build strength and endurance, such as stretching, weight-bearing exercises and cardio-pulmonary fitness. Practitioners also teach patients correct ways to bend and lift, as well as to manage the different movements necessary in daily life. The goal here is to restore function so that patients are better able to move and participate in their daily lives.

Functional restoration then goes a step further. Practitioners also teach relaxation exercises and psychological methods of managing the pain, aimed at lessening the fear and anxiety attached to it. Patients learn positive ways to think about the pain so they can regain quality of life even when the pain is still present.

The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York is a multidisciplinary center that offers innovative operative and nonoperative treatments, including physical therapy for lower-back pain.

To learn more, see the The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York website here.

Learn more about a talk Dr. Johnson gave about the link between smart phones and neck and back pain here.

Learn more about Dr. Johnson on his bio page here.

Photo Credit: © Kzenon/Dollar Photo Club

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