Back Pain Information for Kids

Physical Therapy- Passive Modalities

A "passive modality" (moe-dal-it-tee) is a treatment the physical therapist gives the patient. There are many types of modalities. Some are used before or after exercise.

There are many types of massage. Swedish Massage is the most popular form used in North America. Massage is a wonderful therapy used to relieve muscle tension, spasms, swelling (inflammation), aches, stiffness, and pain. Massage therapists use their hands or special tools to knead, rub, and stroke muscles. Sometimes lotion or oil is applied to the skin to reduce friction.

Massage increases blood flow and warms muscles and other soft tissues (e.g. tendons, ligaments). Blood flow delivers oxygen and nourishment and carries away cell waste.

Hot/Cold Therapy
Heat and ice are very common. Hot and cold should always be used carefully. Always place a thick towel between the source and the skin. Both hot and cold agents are available in many forms. Hot packs, heating pads, hydrotherapy, gel packs, and of course - good old ice cubes wrapped in a thick towel.

Heat draws blood into tissues. The increased flow of blood delivers oxygen and food and removes cell wastes. The warmth can reduce muscle spasm, relax tight muscles, relieve pain, and increase flexibility.

Cold slows circulation, which reduces swelling (inflammation), muscle spasm, and pain. The effect of cold is known to last longer than heat. Cold therapy is used after injuries such as sprains to help control pain and swelling.

Caution - if a gel pack (hot or cold) gets a hole, do not use it! The chemicals used to produce heat or cold can burn the skin. Ouch! Throw it away immediately.

Ultrasound equipment generates high frequency sound waves. The sound waves are transmitted into a body part using a round-headed probe. The probe is gently swirled over the skin in the area to be treated. The sound waves travel deep into the tissue (e.g. muscle) creating gentle heat. The heat draws blood into the target tissue. Oxygen and nourishment are delivered and cell wastes are removed.

Ultrasound helps to relieve pain, muscle spasm, and tightened joints. Feels a little tingly, but oh so good!

Hydrotherapy is probably one of the oldest forms of therapy known to man. Whirlpools, water spas, swimming pools, and even the bathroom tub are all forms of hydrotherapy.

In a professional setting (e.g. physical therapy department), the water temperature and agitation (speed at which the water moves) is set to fit the patient's needs. Warm water increases blood flow and cold slows circulation. Hydrotherapy is used to relax tense muscles and to relieve pain and swelling.

Gentle water exercises using the resistance of the water can help build strength and flexibility. Some people with arthritis exercise in the water.

A Word of Caution
These treatments can be very helpful if used properly. We suggest seeking the advice of a health care professional before using any of them.

Updated on: 12/10/09