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.

    "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."

    Recommended Related to Back Pain

    Neck Strain and Whiplash

    Neck strain is often just called whiplash. Although it's usually associated with car accidents, any impact or blow that causes your head to jerk forward or backward can cause neck strain. The sudden force stretches and tears the muscles and tendons in your neck. Neck strain afflicts many amateur and professional athletes. People who play contact sports like football are especially prone to neck strain. Neck strains are often confused with neck sprains. They're a bit different. Neck strains are...

    Read the Neck Strain and Whiplash article > >

    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?

    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.

    "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."

    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