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Mild Back Pain: Advice as Good as Therapy

Do-It-Yourself Treatment Provides Same Results as Physical Therapy in Minor Cases

Everyday Exercise Best continued...

He also advises staying active with regular aerobic exercise to remove lactic acid and other pain-causing chemicals, and with yoga and other routines that stretch back muscles. "I recommend taking aspirin or an over-the-counter pain reliever before you exercise or lift things, or even have a cup of coffee, to prevent pain you might have had," he says. Caffeine is thought to stop or decrease pain.

Frost acknowledges that despite having ongoing problems, all of the patients in her study had nondebilitating back pain.

"Therefore, they were more likely to cope with good advice given by a physiotherapist, particularly when it's supplemented by the information in the back book." But those with severe pain might fare better with professional physical therapy, she says.

The findings are published in this week's BMJ.

Preventing Future Problems

Still, Kenneth Harwood, PT, PhD, CIE, a spokesman for the American Physical Therapists Association, disputes Frost's findings because he says there were problems with the way the study was conducted.

"They are grouping together all patients with lower back pain in a generic way," he tells WebMD. "Basically they say if you treat all these patients similarly, you will get a questionable outcome from physical therapy. What we would say is you can't group all patients together, you need to identify subclasses of patients."

He acknowledges that many cases of minor back pain don't need professional physical therapy, but says that it might be useful for preventing recurrences.

"Certainly at this point, the intervention we use on someone with minor back pain is to quickly decrease pain and increase function, but it's also to prevent the recurrence. What you are able to do with a physical therapist is get a thorough examination and better determine your risk level for re-injury."

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