Physical Therapy for Spondylosis

Reviewed by Jason M. Highsmith, MD

In spondylosis (spinal osteoathritis), your spinal joints don't move as well as they used to because of age-related changes in your spine, similar to arthritis. This can make it very painful to move because of decreased mobility within the spine itself. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy as part of your treatment plan because a physical therapist can help you maintain and increase mobility, learn ways to reduce pain, strengthen your spinal muscles so that they better support your spine, and stretch muscles that may be increasing nerve compression in your spine.
Physical therapy involves three main components: education, passive treatments, and active treatments. A physical therapist uses passive treatments to relax you and your body and to decrease acute pain or inflammation. They're called passive because you don't have to actively participate. If you're experiencing acute pain, you'll most likely start with passive treatments as your body heals and/or adjusts to the pain. However, the goal of physical therapy is to get into active treatments. These are therapeutic exercises that strengthen your body so that your spine has better support.

Passive Treatments for Spondylosis
Your physical therapist may give you passive treatments such as:

Active Treatments for Spondylosis
In the active part of physical therapy, your therapist will teach you various exercises to improve your flexibility, strength, core stability, and range of motion (how easily your joints move). Your physical therapy program is individualized, taking into consideration your health and history. Because your PT program is so individualized, we can't say what should and shouldn't be in your plan; again, your physical therapist will decide that. But we can generally say that you may learn about body mechanics—how to move your body so that you don't increase your pain. You'll learn how to avoid positions that exacerbate your pain. You may also learn about correcting your posture and how to use good ergonomics at work.

Exercise may also be a part of your personalized program. Your physical therapist will help you develop an exercise routine that incorporates elements like range of motion exercise, strength work, and cardio. (Read the article Exercise to Relieve Spondylosis Pain for more details on exercise and how it fits into spondylosis treatment.)

The active treatment portion of physical therapy helps you learn "self-care." Self-care empowers you to take better care of your body through good habits and principles.

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