Alternative Approaches to Low Back Pain
Got back pain? Alternative therapies might help.
Acupuncture for Back Pain
Acupuncture for back pain involves inserting very thin needles into specific
points on your body. This traditional Chinese therapy is thought to balance the
flow of energy in your body.
Acupuncture is generally considered to be very safe, and Moon commonly
recommends acupuncture for back pain.
"There is definitely some evidence that it's effective, although the
evidence is even better for other pain conditions, like knee pain from
arthritis and tennis elbow," Moon says. "When I recommend acupuncture, I start
the patient out with a series of four to five initial treatments, just to see
if this person is an acupuncture responder."
Therapeutic Massage for Back Pain
Certain types of massage can help relieve back pain.
"I think there's enough [evidence] to advocate its use to help with low back
pain," Moon says. "I wouldn't recommend it by itself, but combined with other
approaches, I think it can be useful."
Mind-Body Therapies for Back Pain
Techniques fit under the umbrella of mind-body therapies for back pain,
- Guided imagery
- Relaxation therapy
- Talk therapy
Some are harder than others to test scientifically, and it's hard to
pinpoint if one type of mind-body therapy is more effective than another. But
in general, research has shown that these kinds of therapies can be effective
in treating back pain.
"For persistent back pain, I almost always recommend some type of mind-body
therapy," Moon says. Which kind? It depends on what kind of therapy appeals to
you, as well as what's most easily available in your area.
Another category of treatments for back pain is called mindful movement.
These therapies include common options found in many gyms, like yoga and
t'ai chi, and other movement-based therapies like the Alexander technique and
the Feldenkrais technique. All involve using different positions and types of
movement to help relieve your back pain.
"The jury is still out on these techniques," Moon says. "There are some
studies that say that they do help with back pain, and some that say they
don't. But there is no strong evidence against them, and I have seen these
techniques be effective, especially for people who have habits of moving their
bodies in ways that can lead to pain."
If you want to try chiropractic, biofeedback, massage, or yoga for your back
pain, referrals are the best way to find help, Cole says.
"If you have a good relationship with your primary care doctor, they've seen
thousands of patients a year and they learn about resources in your community,"
he says. "Or ask your neighbor, or someone at your gym. Someone else who might
not come to mind right away: a hospital social worker. They know a lot about
resources in the community. And they can at least tell you who not to go
to -- bad news travels fast!"