The bones and joints in our bodies each provide a range of motion, connected to specific limbs for movement. The spine, the muscles of our back, the network of nerves and connective tissue are some of the hardest working parts of the body. You may not always be aware of the continuous effort needed throughout the day to support your head and neck, keeping you upright while standing, sitting, or working, until you start to experience pain or stiffness.

The American Physical Therapy Association confirms that back pain is one of the most common health problems that people face today. Some back pain comes naturally with age, as the soft tissue in between the vertebrae in your spine wear down over time. If you have a physically demanding job that causes you to use your back more, you may experience back pain sooner or more often than other people may. You can easily strain back muscles by lifting too much weight, moving the wrong way, or exhibiting poor posture. The good news is most cases of back pain can be treated through rest and proper rehabilitative exercise, such as movements prescribed by a licensed physical therapist.

There are many common misunderstandings about back pain. Often, conditions that we think people with back pain suffer from are present in seemingly healthy adults. This means that really everyone can benefit from physical therapy as they get older. I would like to address the most common misunderstandings.

“I have back pain because of a herniated disc.”

A disc is another name for the soft tissue in between vertebrae in your spine. A herniated disc is typically painful, swollen, and most often begins to occur in people in their 40s. You may be surprised to learn that 40 percent of people without any back pain can have bulging discs on scans. Physical therapy is a great treatment to reduce bulging discs in all people to keep the spine healthy. Back pain is not often serious and is treatable, but if other physical problems or ailments were present, it would be a good idea to see your primary care provider to make sure something else is not causing the pain.

“I have degenerative disc disease.”

Degenerative disc disease is another name for arthritis in the back. Another surprising fact about this is the average person in their 40s may experience more back pain than a person in their 60s, even though an older person will have more degenerative changes in their spine. Joint degeneration and arthritis is common as we age, but research supports that only about half of people with the condition will experience pain from it. The best way to treat joint changes related to aging is proper movement. In other words, ‘motion is lotion’ for the joints.

“Back pain is back pain.”

One person’s back pain may seem similar when described to another, but the causes and proper treatment plans can vary greatly. Each person’s episode of back pain is unique to them and will likely benefit from an individualized plan of care. There is not a universal set of exercises for back pain; what may work for one person’s pain may actually aggravate back pain for someone else. There are multiple tissues that can refer the same pain in the back. Pain from the disc, facet joint, spinal ligaments, and even our internal organs can cause pain in our back. This can be very difficult to differentiate from one another, and a licensed physical therapist is trained to know what to look for and what to recommend.

“I need an order from my doctor to receive physical therapy.”

With the exception of Medicare and Medicaid, most health insurances in Wisconsin will accept Direct Access Scheduling to see a physical therapist. This means you can take control of your back pain and call to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist without a doctor’s order or referral. For individuals with Medicare or Medicaid, many times a call to your primary care physician is enough to generate an order for physical therapy.

Our physical therapists are specifically trained to identify factors to determine the source of your back pain and can refer you to a physician if needed. With Direct Access Scheduling, you can make an appointment at any of Fort HealthCare’s Therapy & Sport Center locations in Fort Atkinson (920) 563-9357, Lake Mills (920) 648-8170, or Whitewater (262) 473-5599. Visit to learn more.

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