According to the World Health Organization (WHO), low back pain is one of the 10 top leading causes of pain and disability worldwide. The Global Burden of Disease report 2010 states that back pain can affect everyone, from the very young to the elderly.
In this article, learn about three research-based treatment options that are known to be effective for providing relief from back pain.
Treatment 1: Chiropractic Care
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), recommends chiropractic care for cases where self-care alone does not produce improvements in the severity of low back pain.
Several studies highlight positive results ranging from mild to moderate when using chiropractic adjustment to treat low back pain. The American College of Physicians, the American Pain Society and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality also endorse chiropractic treatments as an effective option for managing neck and back pain.
Perhaps most pertinently for individuals considering more invasive options such as surgery, a number of research studies have indicated chiropractic care is as effective as mainstream conventional medical care in managing the symptoms of back pain.
In certain studies, chiropractic works best when used in combination with a variety of other options for obtaining relief. The options highlighted include these:
- Heat application.
- Cold compresses.
- Changing to a firm mattress.
- Physical therapy.
- Exercise (especially strengthening).
- Pain relief medications.
The reason results vary from mild to moderate relates to the underlying causes for the back pain. For example, if an individual suffers from low back pain due to a herniated disc, a congenital narrowing of the spine (Cauda equina syndrome) or other similar longstanding known issues, the results may differ from those of individuals experiencing chronic low back pain as a result of stress, poor posture and ergonomics at work and lack of physical strength.
According to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), much additional research exists to support the use of chiropractic care for treating back and neck pain. One intriguing point that is made is the cost effectiveness of including chiropractic care along with traditional medical care to achieve relief (versus seeking medical care alone). Fewer additional visits for traditional medical treatment were required when chiropractic was added to the care menu.
The American Chiropractic Association states that chiropractic practitioners are Doctors of Chiropractic (DC). They have completed a full four-year accredited graduate program in chiropractic medicine. Accreditation is overseen by the U.S. Department of Education. Licensing is overseen by the practitioner’s state of residence and includes having to pass a national licensing exam and keeping up their state license through taking continuing education courses annually.
When selecting a chiropractic doctor to treat low back pain, it is important to verify the practitioner’s credentials, education and licensing. Here, the selection process should be no different than that required to select a family doctor or surgical specialist. In this way, it is possible to ensure the highest quality of chiropractic care and the best chance of helpful results.
Treatment 2: Physical Therapy
Harvard Medical School states that physical therapy can provide equal benefits with fewer risks for at least one cause of lower back pain.
Called lumbar spinal stenosis, which basically translates to mean a narrowing of the spine in its lower region, this type of back issue causes pain from putting excess pressure on nerves and the spinal cord itself. The most common types of lower back pain experienced with this condition are in the lower back to the buttocks area.
While decompression surgery is still commonly prescribed and has been shown to be effective, new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that physical therapy can also deliver similar results with a lower risk – and a lower cost with far less recuperation time. As well, there is a lower likelihood of complications with a less invasive approach.
In a second research study, research participants with generalized back pain (unrelated to a specific medical diagnosis) were treated with physical therapy, yoga or education only. The study results (more on this in Treatment 3 here) showed that physical therapy and yoga each provided commensurate benefits, which were far more effective than education for relieving back pain symptoms.
Physical therapy treatment for lower back pain can incorporate each of the following elements (and others), according to WebMD:
- Exercises to promote pain relief.
- Exercises to promote strengthening.
- Manual movement therapies.
- Low-impact cardio exercises.
- Ultrasound treatments.
- Heat and ice treatments.
- Dry needling.
- Electrical stimulation (TENS).
- Stretching exercises to promote flexibility.
Since physical therapy is a highly individualized type of treatment where a plan is tailored to the needs of each individual patient, the study is particularly valuable since all participants were given the same basic physical therapy treatments for the duration of their participation in the study. 12 sessions were offered and then results were measured, at which time participants reported that their pain had been alleviated to a moderate extent (37 percent for physical therapy track participants).
Treatment 3: Yoga
WebMD states that yoga is considered commensurate to physical therapy for treating back pain. The study was done through the Boston Medical Center under the direction of director Robert B. Saper, M.D.
Some of the key benefits of using yoga to treat lower back pain that were highlighted in study results include these:
- Reduces reliance on pain medications.
- Reduces pain.
- Improves function in the back.
This study used research subjects who did not have a specific medical diagnosis (such as the spinal stenosis highlighted here in Treatment 2), but rather had chronic back pain stemming from unknown causes. Most of the study’s research participants rated their pain in the 7 to 10 range on a scale of one to 10, with one being little pain and 10 being severe pain.
Study participants attended one 75-minute yoga class each week and were encouraged to practice the new postures at home using a DVD resource. The participants rated both yoga and physical therapy as equally effective at reducing their back pain symptoms.
There are many different types of yoga practiced throughout the world. However, in this study, the type of yoga offered was uniform for all participants (obese to fit) and was gentle, with the first classes focusing on basics such as getting down onto the ground and then getting back up again. The participants took just 12 sessions total and saw marked improvement in their pain levels (48 percent for yoga track participants).
What these three treatments highlight is that back pain sufferers have a variety of options for addressing the often disabling effects of back pain. These options exist at varying price points, levels of invasiveness and risk factors. With research continuing in all three treatment areas, chiropractic, physical therapy and yoga, and study results proving largely positive to date, each of these three treatment options appears to hold promise to ease pain in the upper/mid/lower back and neck area for patients with short-term or chronic pain.