Low Back Pain

If you have been experiencing low back pain, this is a complete guide to help you better understand your condition and get you back to a healthy life.

What is Low Back Pain?

back painLow back pain is a term that encompasses a multitude of diagnoses associated with structures in the lower back. Depending on what kind of physician you see the diagnosis and recommended treatment may be different. Most traditional models look at the back in isolation through medical imaging. This can be very misleading, as degenerative changes and spinal abnormalities are common in most individuals – even those without symptoms. In fact, disc degeneration and spine arthritis occur as early as our twenties.

At Impact Physical Therapy in both Glendale and Scottsdale, we use a comprehensive, total body evaluation that not only determines the anatomical source of your pain. It also identifies movement impairments and muscle imbalances that cause your symptoms. So don’t be discouraged by your MRI findings and medical diagnosis — even the most severely degenerated spines can respond well to Scottsdale physical therapy.


Contributing Factors to Low Back Pain That Might Surprise You

  1. Stress management
  2. Sleep hygiene
  3. Hydration
  4. Diet/nutrition
  5. Fitness/activity level

Common Diagnoses

Herniated Disc

The intervertebral disc is a jelly donut-like structure that provides a cushion between each vertebra. It is made of a strong, outer structure called the annulus and filled with a hydroelastic center, the nucleus pulposus. Often, tears in the annulus create a space for the nucleus to bulge outward towards the spinal nerves and cause radiating pain down the legs. Low back pain in Scottsdale and Glendale research shows almost no correlation between disc herniation size and patient symptoms, so don’t be discouraged if you get this diagnosis.



Foraminal stenosis is a degenerative narrowing that occurs in some individuals as they age. The intervertebral disc becomes dehydrated and shortened, causing the surrounding ligaments to bulge toward the nerve and thereby narrowing the space around the nerve. Scottsdale low back pain patients with stenosis report pain and difficulty standing up straight and often prefer to lean forward on shopping carts when walking.


Muscle and Soft Tissue Strain

While MRI’s are used to diagnose joint and disc pathologies, we do not have a good imaging technique to diagnoses muscle strains, causing joint/disc pathologies to be overdiagnosed and soft tissue pathology to be underdiagnosed. Weak and/or tight muscles are susceptible to micro-tearing, which causes inflammation and low back pain in Glendale that is not well visualized on an MRI. As the muscle attempts to heal itself, it lays down scar tissue in an unorganized manner, reducing the muscle’s capacity. While this can be associated with pain, it is often pain-free and causes dysfunction in neighboring body regions.

  • Treatment – Break up scar tissue via cupping, dry needling, and/or myofascial release. Stretching may not be sufficient to break up scar tissue and could even place excessive stress on the joints surrounding the strained muscle. Once the star tissue is broken down, it is extremely important to retrain the muscle to fire correctly to improve its function, decrease the risk of reformation of scar tissue, and decrease the risk for recurrence of symptoms.


Sciatica/Pinched Nerve

Low back pain that radiates down one leg is often caused by a pinched nerve and is termed “sciatica.” Nerves travel down from the brain and exit the spinal cord through a space between vertebrae called the intervertebral foramen. Then travel through muscles and connective tissue until they innervate their target muscles. Nerves can get trapped in any of these locations, causing inflammation. Neural inflammation can cause pain, numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness. While this low back pain in Scottsdale can sometimes resolve with medication alone, prolonged bed rest and avoidance of activity can further exacerbate spine dysfunction and increase the risk for a recurrence of symptoms in the future.

  • Treatment – It is imperative to promptly identify where the nerve is getting compressed in order to properly offload the nerve via joint mobilization, myofascial release, or a combination of the two. Once the nerve is offloaded, a movement analysis can identify movement faults that might have contributed to the pinched nerve, and further treatment can correct the movement faults and prevent the nerve from getting pinched again in the future.



Arthritis is a term used to describe joint degeneration that is often associated with aging. While healthy individuals without back pain show signs of arthritis as early as their 20’s, arthritis in the spine can sometimes contribute to low back pain in Phoenix patients. Patients with painful arthritis often complain of low back pain with standing, walking, and twisting, with a decrease in symptoms while laying down. While bed rest might alleviate symptoms in the short term, inactivity contributes to muscle atrophy and can make back pain worse over time. Further, inactivity can lead to weight gain, endocrine dysfunction, mood/psychological dysfunction, and cardiovascular disease – all of which can contribute to worsening back pain.

  • Treatment – Your therapist will perform a posture screen and movement analysis to identify muscle imbalances that are causing excessive stress or load on your spine joints (called facets). He/she will then correct these muscle imbalances using dry needling, myofascial release, cupping, stretching, and exercise.


low back pain


At-Home Treatment Options for Low Back Pain

Below are some effective stretching and strengthening treatment options if you can’t make it into our Scottsdale or Peoria locations for low back pain.


Stretches >> VIEW MORE

  • Hip flexor stretch
  • Piriformis stretch
  • Hamstring stretch
  • Cat/Cow

Strengthening Exercises >> VIEW MORE

  • Bridges
  • Lateral band walks
  • Planks (forward and lateral)
  • Walkouts


Why Impact Physical Therapy for Low Back Pain

At Impact Physical Therapy, we focus on your entire movement system to not only identify the source of your symptoms (i.e. muscle, joint, disc), but to also treat the causes of your spine pathology and low back pain in Scottsdale and Glendale. Research shows that patients that participate in physical therapy before getting an MRI save $4000 in medical imaging costs.

We treat active people in the Glendale and Scottsdale areas to help them get off their pain medication. By treating the entire movement system, we reduce the need for spinal injections or surgery. Following a physical therapy plan of care, less than 5% of our patients are referred to an orthopedic surgeon to discuss more invasive options (spine injections or surgery). We get your body back to moving the way it was built to move without long-term complications that are often associated with surgery.

We are we different than other clinics: we offer a full hour of one-on-one care with a doctor of physical therapy. We don’t use aids/assistants or charge more for specialized interventions (dry needling, instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization, cupping, etc.). 

Regardless of how terrible your low back pain in either Glendale or Scottsdale feels or how bad your MRI looks, Impact Physical Therapy is always here to help. Reach out to us today to better your health!