Reduce Back Pain: 5 quick and easy exercises to reduce back pain

Lower Back Pain Treatment: Exercise Physiologist vs. Physio

Picture of Chris Dounis

Chris Dounis

Chris is an accredited exercise physiologist with over 15 years professional experience working with a wide range of clients.
Learn more about Chris here.

Searching for lower back pain treatment can lead you down a sometimes confusing path with many options. Among the most beneficial and least invasive treatments for lower back pain are exercise-based therapies, particularly those implemented by Exercise Physiologists.

As Exercise Physiologists, we utilise exercise science to alleviate pain, improve function, and prevent future issues.

This article compares the roles of Exercise Physiologists and Physiotherapists in treating lower back pain and provides examples of specific exercises that can help strengthen your lower back and reduce pain.

What Is an Exercise Physiologist?

An Exercise Physiologist is a healthcare professional who deeply understands the body’s response to physical activity.

EPs are experts in designing and delivering safe and effective exercise programs for people with specific conditions, such as chronic diseases and injuries, including lower back pain.
Their primary focus is on using exercise to improve health and well-being, prevent illnesses, and rehabilitate individuals who are recovering from health issues.

What Does an Appointment With an Exercise Physiologist Look Like?

When you visit an Exercise Physiologist, the appointment starts with a detailed conversation about your medical history, current health, and specific goals or concerns. In the context of lower back pain, we will aim to set some SMART goals that are typically based around pain, function, strength and mobility.

We will ask about your usual level of physical activity and any exercises you currently do or have tried in the past. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect during your appointment:

The Assessment Phase

At EP360, we will conduct a series of assessments that are primarily based on your functional capacity. We will look at your movement, assess any compensations that we see and any deviations away from what we would consider to be normal movement and function.

We will also look at your back’s range of motion for lower back pain and test various muscles for strength and endurance.

The Plan Creation Phase

Using your assessment information, the Exercise Physiologist creates a personalised exercise plan that is tailored to your goals and needs and that is 100% specific to you. Bearing in mind that no two people ever move in the same way.

We’ll show you each exercise, ensure you’re doing it correctly, and discuss the number of repetitions, how often to work out, and what intensity level is appropriate.
We then aim to ensure that the exercises help manage your pain and fit into your lifestyle and interests. The most important element of any exercise plan is consistency, so we will work with you to ensure that your plan is one that you agree with and are likely to follow through with.

The Maintenance Phase

Throughout your time with an Exercise Physiologist, we will monitor your progress and adjust your plan as needed.

We also advise on managing pain during daily activities and maintaining a healthy lifestyle overall.

How Is an Exercise Physiologist Different From a Physiotherapist?

Lower Back Pain Treatment: Exercise Physiologist vs. Physio

An Exercise Physiologist is a professional who specialises in understanding and applying how exercise and physical activity can improve health and help in the rehabilitation process for chronic diseases and injuries, such as lower back pain.

In contrast, a Physiotherapist is a healthcare professional skilled in diagnosing and treating various physical conditions. As a general rule, when pain first presents or an injury occurs, you would see a Physiotherapist during what we call the ‘acute’ phase of the injury. This is simply the initial stages.

Physiotherapists use various techniques, including specific exercises, manual therapy, and advice on movement and function, to assist in early-stage injury recovery, manage acute pain, and improve mobility.

The main difference between the two lies in their scope of practice. Exercise Physiologists focus on long-term exercise programs for chronic conditions and are experts at managing the ‘sub-acute’ phase of an injury, typically 8-10 weeks after the injury first presents itself. Physiotherapists, on the other hand, are trained to provide acute care, implement rehabilitation protocols, and offer a broader range of treatments for various physical issues, but typically only manage physical injury, not metabolic or cardiovascular health.

Which Is Better for Lower Back Pain Treatment: An Exercise Physiologist or a Physiotherapist?

Both Exercise Physiologists and Physiotherapists are well-trained and capable of treating lower back pain.

Even though their ultimate objective is to alleviate pain, Exercise Physiologists and Physiotherapists employ varied methods.

Exercise Physiologists develop programs that use exercise to manage chronic pain over time, focusing on improving overall health and function and are trained in the sub-acute phase for medium to long term pain.

Physiotherapists, in contrast, may use a mix of manual therapy, specific movements, and technological modalities to address the immediate discomfort of acute back pain and should only typically be used for periods of 4-8 weeks as symptoms should well and truly be improving by that stage.

What Kind of Exercises Do Exercise Physiologists Provide?

Here are some of the exercises you may be given on visiting an Exercise Physiologist. Bearing in mind that these are very general examples and your actual program may differ significantly.

1. The Chair Squat

Chair Touch Squats (or Box Squats) are beginner-friendly squat variations that target the legs and glutes, supporting back pain relief by strengthening the lower body and promoting proper posture.

These squats aim to reduce the load on the lower back and encourage hip mobility, promoting a healthier spine.

2. Side Planks

The Side Plank is a beginner-friendly exercise that enhances core strength, particularly in the oblique muscles. It also promotes stability, which in turn helps relieve back pain.

It strengthens the oblique muscles, gluteus medius and quadratus lumborum and enhances core stability, reducing the risk of back pain.

The Side Plank also encourages proper posture and spinal alignment by strengthening the lateral muscles of the torso.

3. The Bird Dog

The Bird Dog enhances core strength, stability, and balance while also supporting back pain relief. It strengthens the deep core and hip muscles, helping to support the spine and relieve back pain.

The Bird Dog also promotes proper posture and spinal alignment by improving proprioception in the hip and lower back muscles, reducing the risk of lower back discomfort.

When to see an Exercise Physiologist?

Choosing an Exercise Physiologist may be a good decision if you’re dealing with long-term or chronic back pain that has been affecting your life for an extended period.

An EP can guide you through a gradual and sustained exercise regimen that aims to strengthen the body, improve flexibility, and enhance overall functionality, which can help reduce chronic pain.

Conditions Suited for Exercise Physiology

Visiting an exercise physiologist might be particularly beneficial if you have one of the following conditions:

Medical conditions

Suppose you have a chronic medical condition such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or arthritis. In that case, an Exercise Physiologist can design a safe and effective exercise program tailored to your specific needs and limitations.

Rehabilitation

After an injury, surgery, or illness, an Exercise Physiologist can help you recover and regain your strength, flexibility, and functional abilities through a personalised rehabilitation program.

Special Populations

Exercise Physiologists are trained to work with special populations, such as pregnant women, older adults, or individuals with disabilities, ensuring their exercise programs are safe and appropriate for their unique needs.

Performance Enhancement

If you’re an athlete, an Exercise Physiologist can analyse your biomechanics, fitness levels, and training regimens to develop a program that optimises your performance and minimises the risk of injury.

Weight Management

An Exercise Physiologist can create a comprehensive exercise and lifestyle plan to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, taking into account your metabolic rate, body composition, and nutritional needs.

Fitness Assessments

Exercise Physiologists are qualified to conduct various fitness assessments. These include VO2 max tests, body composition analysis, and muscular strength and endurance tests to evaluate your current fitness level and track your progress.

When to see a Physiotherapist?

Exercise Physiologist vs. Physiotherapist for lower back paint treatment

Consulting a Physiotherapist can be a good move when experiencing acute or chronic back pain, particularly from an injury or a specific incident.

They are equipped to deal with pain by providing immediate care that can help reduce discomfort and prevent further injury.

Here are some situations where a Physiotherapist’s expertise can be particularly beneficial:

  • If you’ve recently sustained an injury leading to lower back pain, such as a sprain or muscle strain.
  • After undergoing a surgical procedure on your back and during the early stages of recovery.
  • When you experience a sudden onset of back pain that interferes with your daily activities.
  • If you need a precise diagnosis and targeted treatment plan for your new or acute back pain.
  • Where there’s a need for hands-on treatment techniques, such as massage, joint mobilisation, or the use of special equipment to manage pain and encourage healing.

Physiotherapists are hands-on treatment specialists who can offer immediate techniques, teach pain management skills, and provide therapeutic exercises tailored to relieve acute back pain and assist in a quicker recovery.

A few extra words

Exercise Physiology can help with physical conditions like lower back pain, shoulder pain, chronic fatigue, and osteoporosis. It can also improve your mentality and help you alleviate conditions like anxiety and depression.

If you’d like to try Exercise Physiology, we invite you to reach out to us at EP 360. Contact us at 0432 179 939 or through email @ care@ep360.com.au.

Through our evidence-based treatment, we’ll help you reduce pain, move better, and get stronger as you do it.

References

Disclaimer

This series does not serve as specific medical advice, and should be viewed as educational ONLY. Chronic pain is an individual and complex experience, and as such, any treatment needs to be tailored to the individual. Always seek advice from a relevant medical professional before undertaking any treatment or exercise program.

 

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