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Low Back Pain: Many Options for Relief

Expert Panel Says a Variety of Treatments Can Ease Pain Without Surgery
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"Patients and doctors need to talk," Chou says. "Don't use stuff not backed up by evidence. Don't fall for stuff just because it's touted on the Internet or whatever."

Scott D. Boden, MD, professor of orthopaedic surgery and director of the Emory University orthopaedics and spine center, says the panel's advice confirms what back specialists have been saying for years.

"These programs have been around for 15 to 20 years," Boden tells WebMD. "Some studies show they have a benefit, some not. A lot of this has to do with the psychological makeup of patients."

Boden adds one more possible cure to Chou's list: time.

"Fortunately for most patients, it is just a short period of time where back pain is absolutely debilitating," he says. "For some, the most important thing is just the education that they are not falling apart, so they can to stop searching for the cure and go on and live their lives."

Both Boden and Chou stress that surgery is not the answer for most patients. In fact, Consumer Reports this month listed back surgery as the No. 1 most overused medical treatment.

"Since surgery doesn't offer a large advantage in most patients, the message is that most people will be able to get better without surgery," Chou says. "If you can avoid it, you are going to be better off."

Boden suggests that patients settle on a treatment that helps and warns that some patients may never be totally cured of back pain.

"Unfortunately, while looking for a cure patients can run into surgery that would be moderately risky with a small chance of success," Boden says. "Or they could end up with something that is not necessarily dangerous, but equally ineffective. There are a lot of new things that sound good, but the real back pain options really haven't changed that much in decades."

Chou and colleagues report the panel findings in the Oct. 2 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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