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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.

Building a Stronger Back continued...

Florida chiropractor Thomas Hyde, DC, stresses the importance of "core stability" in any exercise program designed to strengthen the back and relieve chronic pain.

"I like to use the Swiss ball, for example," he says. "In the very early stages, the person may do nothing more than sit on the ball, learning the basics of what's called 'proprioception,'" a sense of balance and joint positioning. "Then they can move on to leg lifts and other various positions on the ball, to the use of weights or tubing to do strength training exercises while on the ball. Over the course of time, the patient should see an improvement in balance and in their complaints about back disorders, and it's a relatively inexpensive approach."

Other types of exercise, such as yoga, Pilates, and tai chi, are just beginning to be studied as treatments for back pain, says the GHC's Cherkin. The preliminary results of a study of yoga for back pain done at the GHC "looks promising," he reports.

Mind and Body

Chronic back pain may not be all in the mind, but for some people, the answer to conquering it may lie there. "A number of mind-body approaches to treating low back pain have demonstrated success," says Andrew Block, PhD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center in Dallas and director of the Well-Being Group, a spine center in Plano, Texas. "The major approaches are what we call 'self-regulation strategies': hypnosis, biofeedback, and relaxation exercises. They're designed to promote muscle relaxation and pain control, reducing the amount of energy used for keeping muscles tight and giving the patient a sense of control over their situation -- something you feel like you've lost with chronic pain."

Often, says Block, the image he uses to help a patient control pain is one of electricity. "I saw a patient today and we talked about the pain signals coming up their spine like electrical wires. When they feel pain, they'll see the wires glowing," he explains. "As they get into a relaxed, hypnotic state, they'll see the glow decrease, visualize it not flowing as intensely or rapidly, and that enables them to mute the pain."

Sometimes, it's not about getting rid of the pain but managing it through other psychological approaches. "These fall into the category of 'cognitive behavioral intervention.' You take the thoughts that go along with back pain and help the patient change the way they view their situation so that they can cope with it better," Block says. "The main thing I advise people to do is to move from seeing the pain as a condition that can be cured to a condition of living that requires them to adapt and function as best they can. It's important to use your own strength to overcome what this does to your life."

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