“Oh, my back hurts!” It’s a complaint heard all over the world.
Back pain is the main reason to see a doctor, because many people experience this pain throughout their lives. In 2016, treating back pain cost the U.S. healthcare system $134.5 billion, more than any other disease. Chronic low back pain—rather than the occasional “Oh, I shouldn’t move the couch by myself” complaints—has been a treatment challenge for healthcare providers for decades.
The mind and body therapies to consider
The main treatment for back pain is medication. But in 2017, when the opioid crisis reached its peak, healthcare providers had to find safer treatments.
Obviously they have. Today, many healthcare providers are using complementary or alternative medicines to treat pain. These are a series of so-called non-mainstream therapies, usually used in conjunction with standard therapies.
According to mind and body therapy The National Cancer Institute is a therapy that combines controlled breathing, mental concentration, and physical movement to relax the body and mind.
The American College of Physicians reviewed safer treatments and found evidence that changed their perceptions of how to treat back pain. In 2017, they updated their guidelines to include hyperthermia, massage, acupuncture and chiropractic as top treatments. They say drugs—including ibuprofen, muscle relaxants, and opioids—should be the last resort.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2018, patients who were treated with opioids during tooth extraction had higher pain levels than those who did not use opioids during the same surgery.
Hyperthermia, massage and chiropractic
Hyperthermia and massage are used to calm inflammation and improve mobility. Chiropractic is a hands-on therapy provided by chiropractors. It involves combining fast movements with slower movements to adjust and stimulate the spine and surrounding muscles.
“As a chiropractor and nurse practitioner, I use conservative therapies such as chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture or massage,” said Mary E. Pregler-Belmont, who practices in Dubuque, Iowa.Her patient, she said in an email interview Medical Daily, Has found relief through exercise, stretching and relaxing postures, as well as ice and heat.
Linda Farynowski, a 56-year-old teacher from British Columbia, Canada, spent five years seeing a doctor and getting a scan. The doctor said that she had arthritis in her back and had to endure low back pain. “When someone recommended acupuncture, I was thinking about taking a course on how to endure pain,” she said in an interview.
Ms. Farynowski visited Zea Friesen, a registered acupuncturist in British Columbia, and there was no immediate cure. But after a few weeks, she no longer had the pain, and now she has only occasional tingling sensations. “Now, if my back starts to hurt, I can usually get rid of it with 2 to 3 treatments,” Ms. Farinowski said.
Dr. Pregler-Belmont said that her patients have also achieved great success with acupuncture, but she warned that some insurance companies may not cover this treatment.
Acupuncturists use fine needles to insert specific parts of the body. Needles help the body release pain-relieving chemicals called endorphins. Ms. Friesen explained that acupuncture may release large amounts of these chemicals into the nervous system, leading to relaxation and balance.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and physical therapy
Meriah Ward, MSN is a nurse practitioner in Raleigh, North Carolina. She often recommends CBT, exercise, and physical therapy for her patients with chronic low back pain. Because this combination is helpful, she always recommends it.
Physical therapy can strengthen the core muscle groups that support the lower back, improving flexibility and posture. They are usually combined with physical and mental therapy.
Cognitive therapy and stress reduction therapy use relaxation and coping techniques to relieve pain. Stress can increase pain, and increased pain can increase stress. “CBT is helpful in helping my patients solve their stress and pain in different ways through a more thoughtful approach,” Ms. Ward said Medical Daily.
When back pain requires emergency treatment
When a recent injury has caused back pain, contact your healthcare provider immediately, especially if you have fallen or received a blow to the head.
Other reasons to contact your provider immediately include:
• Loss of new bladder or bowel control
• Numbness or tingling in the back, legs or feet
• Weak legs or unable to walk
• Severe pain that does not improve
Promising treatments such as acupuncture, massage and CBT are the preferred treatments for low back pain. Combining exercise and physical therapy with these low-tech therapies means that those with chronic low back pain are more hopeful.
Julie Nyhus is a nurse practitioner and freelance health and medicine writer. She lives in Indiana with her husband and Bernese Mountain Dog, only a five-minute walk from Lake Michigan.