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Can Lower Back Pain be Cured by Complementary Modalities, such as Massage and Acupuncture?

Nov 29, 2007
Lower back is estimated to strike 30 - 50% of people in any given year. Most report that lower back pain symptoms only last a day or so. However, nearly 15% of all back pain sufferers report having pain that lasts for several days or weeks and for substantial periods of time throughout the year.

In years past, the main treatment option that individuals chose for their lower back pain was to see a medical doctor. Doctor's often recommended bed rest, traction and some type of painkiller. However, research in the 1980's and 1990's began to show that bed rest and traction actually made back pain worse. Likewise, prescription drugs were often effective in the short term, but could have unintended side effects, such as abdominal pain, headaches, dizziness and even addiction.

In recent years, more and more people have begun to seek treatment for low back pain outside the medical establishment. Recent surveys by the American Medical Association and the National Institutes of Health have shown that as many as 70% of people will see an alternative and complementary practitioner to help treat issues such as lower back pain.

Consumers are clearly voting with their wallet. They are not comfortable with what their medical doctors are offering them and they are looking elsewhere. Regardless of what people are doing, researchers and medical doctors still want to know:

Do alternative methods actually heal back pain?

The answer to this question is surprisingly easy to answer: Yes, many alternative health treatments have scientific evidence that they work for back pain. First, lets talk about massage therapy and acupuncture.

Several review studies published by the medical journal "Spine" and other research journals, have shown strong evidence in support of massage therapy and acupuncture for lower back pain. This is especially true with "chronic nonspecific low back pain." What does that term mean? It's research jargon that means long-lasting back pain, without a specific, diagnosable cause. The evidence is clear: Low back pain can be helped by both acupuncture and massage.

Massage and Acupuncture are even more effective when combined with regular exercise and education. Learning the best ways to move and how to take care of yourself can help maintain a pain free back. There does seem to be evidence that acupuncture is more effective than massage but more evidence needs to be collected.

What about Chiropractic for Lower Back Pain?

Chiropractic care has been around for over 100 years and there are tens of thousands of practitioners. Despite virulent attacks from the medical community, chiropractic care has thrived in recent decades. Unfortunately, multiple scientific studies have pointed out that chiropractics' effect on low back pain is debatable.

However, it is extremely important to point out that the research simply shows that chiropractic is not considered superior to traditional treatments. That is, scientists believe that chiropractic is not better than physical therapy, medication and educational approaches. The studies have not in any way shown that chiropractic is a harmful treatment. And there are many individuals who have reported back pain cures via chiropractic.

Can The Feldenkrais Method help with lower back pain?

The Feldenkrais Method is one of the newer alternative modalities that can be used for back pain. Originated by pioneering movement scientist Moshe Feldenkrais in the 1940's, there are several thousand practitioners who practice the method worldwide. Because of its relative newness and the small number of practitioners using Feldenkrais, little research has been conducted on it.

The one study that I was able to find specifically about Feldenkrais and Back Pain noted that over 70% of the participants reported significant improvement. The gains were still in evidence one year after the treatment.

There are a few other studies in which Feldenkrais was used to treat painful conditions such as fibromyalgia, and chronic neck and shoulder pain. The studies have shown similar results to the back pain study. Participants reported significant decreases in pain, discomfort, and movement restriction. Interestingly, many participants also reported less depression and anxiety, and had an increased ability to relax.

What should you do about your lower back pain?

If you have lower back pain it is important stay active and maintain some type of light-exercise schedule. Staying in bed can make your pain worse. If you are going to take medication consider taking an over-the-counter pain medicine such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Make sure to see your doctor or other health-care provider if symptoms persist.

The best treatment option for your lower back pain is the one that is the least invasive. Surgery is rarely needed for low back pain. If your doctor recommends surgery, make sure that you get a second opinion and ask him or her to recommend at least one non-surgical and non-drug treatment. There is simply too much evidence that other treatments work. They should be considered.

Once you have gotten rid of, or reduced, your low back pain, keep taking care of yourself. Keep your back and stomach muscles strong and flexible. Exercise, Feldenkrais and Massage can all help with this. Learning to keep a flexible and balanced posture, learning the easiest way to lift heavy objects, and learning to manage the stress of everyday life can help to keep symptoms at bay.
About the Author
Ryan C. Nagy, M.A. founder of the Back Pain Foundation, is a university early childhood educator, and autism researcher. You may see him at: Eliminate Back Pain Now: http://www.xbackpain.com
The Back Pain Foundation: http://backpainfoundation.org/
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