Skip to content

    Back Pain Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Alternative Approaches to Low Back Pain

    Back pain got you backed in to a corner? Alternative therapies might help you ease the pain. Part 4 of a four-part series.
    By
    WebMD Feature

    Has your back been bothering you for months -- or years -- and still you and your doctor haven't been able to figure out why? You're not alone. Back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability in America, according to the National Institutes of Health, and costs about $50 billion a year in treatments. Some 80% of Americans will experience back pain at some time in their lives. But most cases of back pain can't be traced to a specific, definable cause.

    Â

    Recommended Related to Back Pain

    Understanding Spinal Disk Problems -- Diagnosis & Treatment

    Because there are many causes of back pain, it is important for your doctor to do a thorough history and physical examination to determine if a spinal disk problem is the root of your back pain. A herniated or slipped disk may press on the nerves coming out from the spinal cord, and it may show up in a targeted neurological exam. Your doctor will check your reflexes, muscle strength, and sensation for abnormalities or changes, especially those that involve the lower extremities. A spinal X-ray may...

    Read the Understanding Spinal Disk Problems -- Diagnosis & Treatment article > >

    "It's a huge problem that we have for both conventional and alternative techniques for treating back pain," says Daniel C. Cherkin, PhD, a senior investigator at the Group Health Cooperative's Center for Health Studies (CHS) in Seattle. "With this huge category of people who have what's referred to as non-specific back pain, you can't trace it to a particular cause."

    Â

    This conundrum leads many back pain sufferers to seek out "alternative" treatments -- everything from massage and acupuncture to mind-body therapies and exercise programs like yoga and tai chi. For example, studies show that back pain accounts for 20% of visits to massage therapists and 14% of visits to acupuncturists, Cherkin notes. But do any of these options work?

    Â

    In many cases, the scientific jury is still out. A recent review of dozens of studies looking at massage, acupuncture, and spinal manipulation (chiropractic) as treatments for low back pain, led by Cherkin, showed some evidence pointing toward the effectiveness of massage and spinal manipulation, but less is known about acupuncture.

    Â

    "The studies we reviewed found massage to be effective for relieving symptoms and increasing function among people with persistent back pain," Cherkin explains. "Spinal manipulation shows small clinical benefits for back pain -- about the same as conventional medical treatments such as over-the-counter pain relievers and various types of physical therapy."

    Â

    Based on existing studies, the effectiveness of acupuncture remains unclear, but a new, large study recently launched at the Group Health Cooperative aims to answer some of those questions. To be conducted over four years, the study is recruiting nearly 700 back pain sufferers and will compare acupuncture to conventional care.

    1 | 2 | 3

    Today on WebMD

    Woman holding lower back
    Or is it another form of back pain?
    Hand on back
    See the myths vs. the facts.
     
    Woman doing pilates
    Good and bad exercises.
    acupuncture needles in woman's back
    Use it to manage your pain.
     
    Man with enhanced spinal column, rear view
    Video
    pain in brain and nerves
    Slideshow
     
    Chronic Pain Healtcheck
    Health Check
    break at desk
    Article
     
    Woman holding lower back
    Slideshow
    Weight Loss Surgery
    Slideshow
     
    lumbar spine
    Slideshow
    back pain
    Article