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How can I measure improvement after six months of PT?

Q: I'm seeing a Physical Therapist for low back pain that I've had for more than six months. What are some ways I can measure improvement?

A: Most people have an episode of back pain that goes away within a month to six week's time. Back pain that lasts more than three months is called chronic.

Improvement in back pain can be measured in several different ways. Spinal range of motion and pain level are the two most common methods used. Number of days on sick leave or number of days before returning to work is another measure. Sometimes, general health and quality of life are used to gauge treatment success.

When pain levels remain the same day after day, then function can be used to measure improvement. Instead of asking you to rate your pain, the therapist asks what you can do today that you couldn't do yesterday. For example, you have the same pain level on Monday and Tuesday, but on Tuesday, you can vacuum two rooms instead of just one. This is an improvement in function.

Olav Frode Aure, PT, et al. Manual Therapy and Exercise Therapy in Patients With Chronic Low Back Pain. In Spine. March 15, 2003. Vol. 28. No. 6. Pp. 525-532.