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Overview of Back Pain Therapy

Back pain is a prevalent issue that has many solutions. Mild more acute forms of back pain can be resolved with self-care that may include stretching, chiropractic care, a short course of over-the-counter medications, cutting back on intense exercise, or temporarily wearing a back brace. More severe or chronic back pain may need more intense relief methods like prescription medication, injections, or surgery.

Passive and active physical therapy are also ways to manage or resolve many types of back pain.  Unlike surgeries and medications, the effects of active spine therapy are not as instantaneous, but they have been shown to provide a longer-lasting relief that goes beyond the pain of the moment by strengthening your back long into the future.

Types of Back Therapy

Back pain therapy comes in two different forms: Passive and Active.

Passive physical therapy involves work that is done to the body. Examples of passive therapy includes:

  • Heat Therapy. When heat is placed on the affected area, it induces vasodilation, which increases blood flow in the body to deliver oxygen and nutrients. It soothes the muscles to relieve spasms, tension, and stiffness. Heat can be administered in the form of steamed towels, heated water bottles, or cloth-covered bags of beans or rice.
  • Cold or Ice Therapy. Placing ice on pain may seem counterintuitive, but ice is a great form of back pain therapy for new or acute pain. It reduces inflammation and slows nerves from firing pain signals. Cold therapy (AKA: cryotherapy) can be delivered through ice or cold gel packs, chilled water bottles, or cold water circulation machines. BE mindful to apply cold therapy through a layer of towel or cloth to prevent skin damage.
  • Ultrasound Therapy. Using high-frequency sound waves through a probe placed on the skin, ultrasound therapy can safely penetrate into the muscles and tissues to provide back pain relief. Ultrasound therapy initiates vasodilation or relaxation of blood vessels which promotes improved circulation into the tissue being treated and can relieve pain. Physical therapists and chiropractors commonly utilize ultrasound therapy to treat back pain.
  • Electrical Stimulation Therapy.  Electrical currents are applied to the tissues affected to relieve stiffness, improve mobility, and interfere with nerve signals that cause pain. Electrical stimulation therapy is said to help release natural endorphins and other naturally occurring pain relievers in the body for relief. A commonly used form of this therapy is called TENS which is short for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.
  • Laser Therapy and Light Therapy. In more recent years the application of low level lasers and LED light therapy has become more popular in many clinics. Certain wavelengths of powerful light sources have been shown to stimulate increased adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production in the tissues deep under the area treated. ATP is the body’s energy source that drives all cellular functions in the body. By increasing ATP production, therapists use laser therapy to improve circulation, speed the healing process, and reduce pain.


Active physical therapy involves progressing through a series of exercising and strengthening activities that the patient does on their own or with the help of a trained professional. This will usually commence gently, through long walks or water aerobics. As time and healing progress, the activities become more intensified as tolerated to build muscles, improve mobility and stabilize joints, which ultimately help prevent your spine from experiencing pain later on. 

Using Back Therapy to Relieve Pain

Therapy is a great way to resolve back pain. Most of the procedures are non-invasive and non-addictive, making it safe to do over long periods of time with little side effects.

Most of all, back pain therapy works for many people. In many cases, they are used as the first step to getting rid of pain, and they often end up being the only necessary step. Active self-therapy consisting of exercises and stretches geared to keep your spine in good shape is something you can continue to do for years even after you recover as a preventative approach. Whether you end up using a combination of ice and heat therapy or have a physical therapist perform TENS followed by active therapy, back pain therapy may work to resolve your back pain.