Excel Physical Therapy: Back Pain Or Sciatica

Matthew Johnston, PT, DPT Matt is the new Clinic Director at our Northeast Philadelphia clinic location. Read his full profile here: FEATURED PT

Understanding Back Pain

Being educated about your back pain can help you to make the right choices in overcoming it as quickly as possible. One of the biggest problems with back pain is that it lingers, which leads many people to deal with back pain for years, without any end in sight.

1. How did you decide to become a physical therapist and what motivates you to work with patients? I never thought of becoming a physical therapist! My mom suggested it to me when I was in high school and, ultimately, she was right. I started my schooling and have enjoyed the profession ever since. I love working with patients to help them achieve their goals. I am passionate about helping others succeed and enjoy learning each individual patient’s story.

While there is back pain which develops as a result of strain or sprain, there is also something called low back degenerative disc disease, which happens when the discs in your spine weaken. This frequently develops as a result of repetitive back injury and can also develop as a result of age. With degenerative disc disease, the space between the discs begins to collapse and become unstable, which will cause back pain to develop. When you work with a physical therapist to overcome back pain as a result of degenerative disc disease, your physical therapist will begin by strengthening core muscle groups, which includes the abdominal wall, and will provide you with targeted massage and stretching techniques to alleviate pain. While some back pain is easy to identify as pain, such as is the case with degenerative disc disease, there are other situations in which the pain may be a bit more complicated to understand. One of the most common back issues experienced in the United States is sciatica pain, and this sort of pain is often a lot more difficult to identify — especially by those who aren’t familiar with the problem. How can you tell the difference between back pain and sciatica pain? The answer is that sciatica pain is characterized by the following factors: • Constant pain is only present in one side of the buttocks or leg • The pain becomes worse when you are sitting • The leg pain develops more as a burning, tingling or searing sensation, and not as a plain ache • There is a sharp pain that occurs at times, making it sometimes difficult to stand or walk Sciatica pain develops in the nerves which connect the lower back to the legs. While the pain itself is generated from the back, many times the experience of pain is associated more with the upper legs. What’s more, sciatica pain doesn’t always develop like pain in the traditional sense. Sciatica pain instead causes a buildup of tingling, numbness and weakness in the lower back and upper legs, and the pain isn’t consistent either. The sensation will typically run through the leg in waves, causing discomfort at seemingly unpredictable times. If you are experiencing back pain and haven’t talked to a medical professional about this concern, then now is the time to take action! Working with a physical therapist can cut your time struggling with back pain literally in half. For more information about overcoming back pain, contact us today!

2. In your words, what makes Excel Physical Therapy different from other Physical Therapy clinics? I think our model of care is what sets us apart. We are able to focus on each patient as individuals. It is that individual focus that makes our treatment approach successful. I get to understand my patients’ stories and what their goals are for their treatment. This information is crucial in helping me help them to achieve full recoveries. 3. What was your most memorable patient experience? I am not sure I have a single most memorable patient story. I think getting to be a small part in each patient’s health journey is very valuable. As physical therapists, we have a special relationship with patients and get to experience their successes, but also help them with their challenges.

4. If you could be any animal, what would it be and why? A dog – they get to sleep most of the day, relax and enjoy their family. Plus everyone feeds them!

5. If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be and why? Focused – I enjoy focusing in on my patients’ needs to help them achieve their goals. I also tend to get focused on hobbies – cooking, bread making, and exercise. I like to dive right into a challenge and use all of my energy to complete it. 6. What do you like to do in your off time, outside the clinic? Outside of the clinic, I enjoy hiking in Fairmount Park, playing with my dogs, and cooking. I have recently developed a love of baking bread and fermenting pickles.

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