I recently treated a patient who had low back pain and leg pain for many years. Her pain was episodic--it would come and go quite randomly. A few years back she was diagnosed with a herniated lumbar disc, and she had a lumbar laminectomy surgery to correct the problem.
She reports that since then she has had episodes of pain where she feels like her back would "go out" and she would become shifted. (A lateral shift is a condition where the spine appears pushed over to one side, like scoliosis.) My patient would try to stretch her hamstrings and her back with no help.
Most recently, her doctor recommended injections to help correct her problem, but the patient asked to be referred to physical therapy. She had tried some PT in the past, and she occasionally would visit the chiropractor for help. She also did a few exercises on her own to stretch.
Her doctor told her that physical therapy would not help.
First things first: perhaps a physical therapist should judge whether physical therapy can help or not. We can evaluate patients and make treatment recommendations. Sometimes, we recommend something other than therapy. Sometimes we just cannot help. But the best person to judge weather PT can help is a physical therapist.
Second: physical therapy is a pretty benign treatment. If there is little chance in hurting someone, why not give PT a try? What's the worst that can happen? The patient gets no better, and then goes back to the doctor for more invasive or different treatments. And what's the best that can happen? The patient gets better.
Here's the kicker: I could help my patient. And I did.
She responded quite nicely to one particular exercise that extended her lower spine. She was able to centralize her symptoms. (Centralization is a good sign, and many studies show that if your pain centralizes, or moves to the center of your low back, you have a pretty good chance of getting better quickly.)
My patient exercised for a week through extension, and returned to report no pain and no episodes of shifting in her spine. She started getting excited about getting back to enjoying time with her children. She even seemed thrilled to be able to start doing laundry again.
I saw this particular patient a third time for a recheck, and all of her symptoms had vanished. She said she would occasionally feel like her back would get tight, but she could do an exercise or two to make it all go away.
And to think she was told that physical therapy couldn't help. If you have a problem with movement and pain, ask your doctor about physical therapy. Like I said, we don't help everyone, but it really can't hurt to try.