zSpine Therapy

Generalized Therapy vs. Spine-Specialized | What does this mean? | Manual Therapy

Gus Varnavas, MD recognizes that therapy can provide the necessary time for Mother Nature to help self-resolve some simple back or neck pain symptoms. The best therapy, however, is NOT passive, but rather active. Movement can actually be the key to relief of pain as it restores blood flow to injured tissues.

By using therapy and injections as non-surgical, conservative care options, Gus Varnavas, MD is able to help many people avoid or delay the need for spine surgery.

General therapy vs. spine-specialized therapy

The only way to permanently relieve pain involves changing the physiology of the back by using exercise to make it stronger, more flexible and resistant to injury. While a general physical therapist may spend weeks attempting to mask pain using heat, ice or ultrasound, research has shown that using these passive “feel-good” treatments does not provide any lasting benefit. That is why most health insurance companies no longer pay for feel-good, passive treatments involving heat or ice. They believe you can do this on your own at home.

Spine is a special problem requiring special training. The general physical therapist often sees a wide variety of patients each day who suffer problems related to sore elbows, knees or shoulders. While general physical therapists are very strong with many sports medicine ailments, they typically have a very limited understanding of the best ways to treat specific types of back problems. At best, they may have taken a couple courses on therapy for a back or neck injury. Spine care can be complex, and it requires extensive training to address the variety of problems seen in a spine center environment.

For example, a spine-specialized therapist’s primary goal is to enable the patient to perform a customized home exercise program as early as their first visit. The therapist’s second goal is to make the patient independent of therapy within a short period of time.

What does this mean for you?

Instead of receiving a general treatment approach, we favor an approach that makes us of spine-trained therapists who use advanced, hands-on skills to help relieve your pain and get your injured muscles, tissues and spinal structures moving again. Instead of a single school of thought, patients can access specialists with a variety of skills who can match the best treatments to your particular problem.

Manual therapy

Manual therapy relates to the use of a therapist’s hands to achieve pain relief. By using specific techniques, the spine therapist can relieve pain through hands-on movements applied to vertebrae and soft tissue areas. This is achieved not passively, with a modality such as ice or heat, but through actively moving the joints and tissues. Spine-specialized therapy can involve techniques taught by schools including McKenzie, Paris, Ola Grimsby, Cyriax and the Maitland therapy school in Australia.

A manual therapist’s background typically begins with physical therapy training, followed by advanced education in spine that sets them apart from general physical therapists. This specialized education can be within a host of manual therapy philosophies, each involving unique pain-relieving techniques that help patients return to function as quickly as possible. Regardless of the particular school of thought, the best spine therapists avoid the use of passive modalities, which do not provide permanent relief.

It is important to note, however, that any time you have symptoms that involve radiating pain or numbness into a leg or arm, consider these serious emergency symptoms that need to be seen by a spine surgeon or spine physiatrist to determine if they are worsening, or if they can be managed with therapy. If you ignore these symptoms, such symptoms can cause permanent nerve damage. Another emergency symptom is any loss of control or bowel or bladder.

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Need an Appointment?

Gus Varnavas, MD at Community Hospital of Anaconda specializes in the treatment of back and neck pain and strives to help people return to activity. Request an appointment with Dr. Varnavas in his office in Anaconda, MT.