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
"The most predictable way of resolving back problems, based
on the scientific literature, is by increasing strength," says Vert Mooney,
MD, director of U.S. Spine and Sport in San Diego. "There's good evidence
that with chronic back pain, the muscles around the spine become inhibited, and
the most rational treatment is a progressive strengthening program."
Ideally, says Mooney, such a program is best done with
calibrated equipment that allows the person with low back pain to gradually
increase the amount of strengthening involved so that performance and progress
can be measured. "With calisthenic-type exercises, it's very difficult to
increase the amount of exercise that you do, so you do enough to stimulate
repair but not enough to increase pain," he says.
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."