Back stretches

Back pain is a very common condition, affecting about 80% of people at some point in their lives. A physiotherapist demonstrates some simple back stretches to help prevent aches and pains.

Media last reviewed: 08/08/2013

Next review due: 08/08/2015


If you have a health problem such as back pain, you can help ease the pain and prevent it re-occurring by:

Read more about self-helpback pain at work and how to sit correctly.

Physiotherapy helps restore movement and function when someone is affected by injury, illness or disability.

It takes a holistic approach that involves the patient directly in their own care.


Physiotherapists treat people of all ages, helping them manage pain and using a number of methods to aid recovery.

Although they're often thought of as just dealing with musculoskeletal problems, physiotherapists are trained healthcare professionals who work in many areas, including:

  • intensive care 
  • mental health
  • neurology (including stroke)
  • long-term conditions
  • breathing problems 
  • men's and women's health (including incontinence)
  • recovery after major surgery
  • orthopaedics and trauma
  • sports
  • workplace health
  • paediatrics (children)
  • care of the elderly
  • education and health promotion

Many physiotherapists work as part of a multi-disciplinary team. They can work from NHS hospitals, community based organisations, private hospitals and clinics, sports clubs, charities and workplaces.

Physiotherapists help treat physical problems linked to a number of the body's systems, including:

  • musculoskeletal – bones, joints and soft tissues
  • neuromuscular – the brain and nervous system
  • cardiovascular – the heart and blood circulation
  • respiratory – the organs that help you breathe, such as the windpipe (trachea), voicebox (larynx) and lungs

What physiotherapists do

Physiotherapists help people who've been affected by injury, illness or disability. Some of the approaches they use include:

  • movement and exercise – taking into account a person’s current level of health and their specific requirements
  • manual therapy techniques – where the physiotherapist helps recovery by using their hands to relieve muscle pain and stiffness, and encourage blood flow to an injured part of the body
  • aquatic therapy – a type of physiotherapy carried out in water
  • other techniques – such as heat, cold and acupuncture to help ease pain

Read more about some of the different techniques used in physiotherapy.

Accessing physiotherapy

Physiotherapy is available through the NHS or privately. It can also sometimes be accessed through other routes, such as charities and the voluntary sector. 

In some areas, self-referral schemes allow physiotherapy to be accessed directly. To find out whether self-referral is available in your area, speak to the reception staff at your GP surgery or ask at your local NHS hospital

Read more about accessing physiotherapy.

Page last reviewed: 29/04/2014

Next review due: 29/04/2016


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The 10 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

AJohnson73 said on 14 October 2014

I have only recently started with physio and can say with absolute confidence that the therapist I am seeing is a very professional and has been upfront and truthful about the treatment length for my condition. I have every faith that even though it will take a long time that I will be able to get out of my bed and better yet out of my house. Keep up the good work guys xxxxx

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Treated with Contempt not Care said on 27 September 2014

I was sent for Physio but the therapist's manner from the outset was one of disdain! I was made to feel very uncomfortable, she obviously did not want to be at the appointment, she missed my injuries, gave me exercises I obviously wouldn't be able to do because of my injuries but also a 4-week open appointment - telling me she didn't expect me to return! When I tried, within 48 hours of that initial humiliation, to make a second appointment because of a particular area of pain (tendon rupturing) I was told by Reception that the therapist was on annual leave & I would have to return to GP for a new(re) referral! It was a relief, actually, that I wouldn't have to see that therapist again! I attended gp for the referral but was then left seven weeks in agony with injuries to legs & feet to find I had been sent on an utter wild goose chase!! The consultant later made me an MRI appt miles away that I had no idea how to get to & may well have not been able to return from the same day due to rural public transport! I had to ask my children's school for leave but the so-called 'Christian' school refused to allow my children a day's leave (in case I was stuck miles away), the consultant wrote to the Practice that I would soon be reaching the breach date & therefore they would not meet their targets & the Practice Manager wrote to me saying I caused unnecessary work for the GP so I felt I had no choice but to cancel the appt & I was left to struggle in agony - these GPs are local & they have seen me hobbling, our lives being destroyed, they regard me with contempt! When I finally got a 2nd appt with the original therapist (through my writing to the Hospital!) she told me my problems would only get worse & told me to go away & not hobble!!

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Lesley2000 said on 16 May 2014

I note that other people are asking very valid questions in relation to what is considered to be treatment and why there appears to be a complete lack of acknowledgment of evidence in relation to mobilisation or manipulation. Also, the site doesn't seem to let others leave comments on other people's comments. Are any of us emailed with updated comments? Why does the NHS fail to acknowledge N.I.C.E guidelines?

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Lesley2000 said on 16 May 2014

I really need to know if physios make their own decision regarding treatment, as whenever they ask me what works, or what doesn't, they proceed with one form of 'treatment', exercise.

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Onelittleredindian said on 02 March 2013

I agree with the earlier comment by Darren BH 11/12/2012.
When is this bias in information going to cease.
If you are going to imply that physiotherapy has a greater evidence base than Osteopathy and Chiropractic then please quote your sources.
The General Osteopathic Council for example have been asking for some time now that there be a level playing field established on this issue.
Is it that the NHS wish to promote physiotherapy above other evidence based treatment simply because they are funding it and the truth would be embarrassing?
NHS Choices is a highly influential source of information for the general public and this article alongside that covering Osteopathy and Chiropractic is highly misleading.
Come on NHS Choices. Put your house in order.

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Musto said on 20 August 2012

The physiotherapy topic was reviewed in February 2012 taking the comments below into consideration.

The topic has been expanded to give a more in-depth and balanced view of physiotherapy and its various approaches and techniques. It also incorporates the recently updated guidelines that were published by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP).

The 'how it works' section has been reviewed and updated to include evidence that movement and exercise can be effective in treating mobility problems that are caused by a stroke.

The section also reports that there is evidence to show that manual therapy can be effective in treating certain musculoskeletal conditions, such as long-term back pain (back pain that lasts longer than six weeks).

Editorial team, NHS Choices

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coopsy88 said on 24 February 2012


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Darren BH said on 11 December 2011

There appears to be some bias in the way different treatments for back pain have been reported on this site:

Under physiotherapy there is no mention of evidence for the range of conditions listed and benefit is implied for the list of conditions/complaints that they see people for.

Conversely Acupuncture and Osteopathy have a brief list of conditions that their is positive evidence for, I have just searched on the clinical trials section of this site under physiotherapy for Back pain, sciatica, headache, tendonitis, arthritis and rotator cuff tear and no articles/evidence was found for any of these conditions?

Also why not include Chiropractic, the Bronfort report the effectiveness of Manual Therapies in the UK found positive evidences for:
Low back pain, acute and chronic
Neck Pain acute and chronic
Headaches – Migraine & Cervicogenic (from the neck)
Shoulder blade pain
Frozen Shoulder
Tennis Elbow
Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis
Patella (knee cap) pain
Plantar fasciitis

The Advertising Standards agency also allows Chiropractors to claim effectiveness in treating these conditions, please show the same level of positive evidence when reporting the benefits of Physiotherapy.

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coopsy88 said on 26 November 2011

Why is there no discussion of the evidence behind methods used by physiotherapists?

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Jamesowers said on 27 March 2010

Where can I find my nearest Physio? How can I book to see one?

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