Why can’t I perform my friend’s physical therapy back exercises?

Joshua Costa, PT, DPT

Exercises are a key component in rehabilitation that allows the body to improve range of motion, strength, balance, mobility, endurance, coordination and posture. Exercises can vary in intensity and repetition, and can be performed in various positions, all for specific goals. Certain exercises promote flexion (bending) of the spine, such as bringing your knees to your chest or when rounding your back. These exercises often are prescribed when treating osteoarthritis, spondylolisthesis (slipping of one vertebrae on another) and spinalstenosis. Other exercises promote extension (straightening), such as lying on your stomach and pushing up onto your forearms or extended elbows. Generally speaking, extension exercises can be helpful with a posterior disc herniation, ankylosing spondylitis and osteoporosis,to name a few. Depending on one’s diagnosis these exercises can be helpful or harmful.

A physical therapist will perform a thorough evaluation and, based on findings, the order from the referring doctor and the patient’s subjective report, will develop a specialized plan of care that is customized to the patient’s needs. This plan of care may include treatments such as manual therapy, exercise, neuromuscular reeducation, gait training, electric stimulation, ultrasound, dry needling and more.

The exercises prescribed by a PT are specific to the individual and generally should not be performed by others unless directed by a medical professional. It is very important to know if an exercise is appropriate for you before performing it. Of course, form is always a critical part of any exercise. The physical therapist will emphasize the importance of proper posture and avoiding compensatory movements when exercising.

The goal of this education is to improve technique, body awareness and function, minimize overuse injuries and halt the worsening of symptoms. A therapist’s ultimate goal is to restore a patient’s function and empower the patient to be independent. Exercises are a key component of any physical therapy intervention but should be treated like a prescription for the individual and not performed without specific direction.


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