My Back Hurts: What Should I Do?


If the headline of this blog post strikes a chord with you, then unfortunately, you’ve likely been struck with low back pain—something that 80% of all Americans will eventually experience. So, what should you do? Well, I suggest going directly to a physical therapist before you do anything else. I understand this suggestion may not make sense to you, so please allow me to explain.  First, I will describe the usual route of treatment for this all-too-common ailment; then, I will show you why going straight to a physical therapist is a far better option.

Usual Scenario

Day 1: Tweak your back by (enter embarrassing reason here).

Day 2: Realize that the pain is only getting worse, that you can’t go to work, and that something needs to happen—now!

Day 3: Go to local urgent care center. Fill out paperwork and wait an hour for the doctor to see you. Undergo a quick exam with the physician or physician assistant, and receive instruction to “take it easy for a few days.” Leave with a prescription for muscle relaxants (which are almost useless) and pain narcotics (which, besides causing constipation and a mild high, will have very little effect on your overall condition). Receive instruction to come back in a week if you’re not feeling any better.

Day 10: Return to urgent care, wait an hour in the lobby, and see a different practitioner—who is only mildly familiar with your case—for more meds, an X-ray, and instructions to “see a specialist if you’re not better in a couple of weeks since the X-ray was negative.”

Day 25: Call the urgent care center to ask what specialist you should see. Wait on hold for 20 minutes until the receptionist “accidentally” hangs up on you. Call back, wait on hold again, and finally get the juicy advice to “see an orthopedist.”  Go online, look up an orthopedist in your network, and call to make an appointment for severe low back pain. Discover that the first available appointment is in two weeks. Receive instruction to go to the urgent care center if you can’t wait.

Day 39: Go to orthopedist’s office, fill out paperwork, and wait 95 minutes to see a physician assistant. Then, get exact same X-rays again (why?), receive prescription for anti-inflammatories, narcotics, and muscle relaxants (really!?), and get a referral to a physical therapist.

Day 40: Go to the physical therapy clinic, fill out the paperwork, and wait two minutes to see a doctorate-level professional who specializes in your specific injury.  Spend at least an hour—face-to-face with the therapist—learning all about your specific injury, why you got hurt, and how you can prevent this from happening again in the future. All the while, receive hands-on treatment that quickly relieves a great deal of your pain—a first since the day it began. Learn how to exercise and ice the affected area so that you’ll continue to get better and return to work. Have the physical therapist tell you that he or she could have helped you so much more quickly and effectively if you had visited him or her first!

Day 41: Return to work. Continue going to physical therapy two to three times per week—or as needed—until your pain is no longer inhibiting you.

Better Scenario

Day 1: Find a physical therapist by using the GetPT PT Finder, and skip directly to Day 40 in the above scenario.

Now do you get it? And did you know that all 50 states have some form of direct access to physical therapy? That means you can go directly to the physical therapist of your choice without seeing a doctor first.

It almost sounds too good to be true—but it’s not. So, if you’re plagued with low back pain, get online—and GetPT.

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