A Look at Alternative/Complementary Therapies
The U.S. spends $90 billion a year on back pain! That’s more than the combined cost of care for high blood pressure, pregnancy AND depression. Back pain is one of the top reasons people see their doctor and the leading reason people miss work. Lost time and productivity is estimated to cost another $10-20 billion.
A Pain in the … Back
Most people with back pain suffer from nonspecific low back pain — pain that has no detectable cause such as a pinched nerve, tumor or infection. The majority of sufferers experience it for a few days or weeks. That’s called acute or short-lasting pain. About 10 percent of patients have subacute (pain lasting 4 to 12 weeks) or chronic (lasting 12 or more weeks) conditions. However long the pain lasts, it can affect your quality of life and ability to attend to home and work responsibilities.
When low back pain has you seeking treatment options, your doctor will want to rule out serious medical conditions that can cause back pain. If your pain is diagnosed as nonspecific back pain, your doctor may suggest hot and/or cold therapy and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen and naproxen. Up until recently, the next tier of medical treatment for pain that persists would include injections, narcotic medications and surgery.
Steroid injections offer relief for some, but not all, for up to a few months. Narcotic, or opioid, medications such as oxycodone and morphine are meant for the treatment of acute pain and for short periods of time. Long-term use can result in increased levels of pain (requiring higher doses to provide the same level of relief) and addiction. Misuse of opioids and accidental death have received wide coverage by the media; read more about the opioid crisis here. Surgery for nonspecific back pain carries with it numerous risks, including no improvement of symptoms.
Remember when back pain was treated with best rest? It turns out that inactivity can delay recovery and that moving is the best remedy.
More on Chronic Pain
See our newsletter series on chronic pain:
Relief in Sight
Since traditional treatment options for low back pain are associated with such high risks, the medical community is becoming more open to the use of alternative and complementary therapies. Earlier this year, the American College of Physicians introduced guidelines for non-invasive treatment of low back pain. They urged providers and patients to avoid surgical and prescription drug options when possible and to try exercise, yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, chiropractic and other alternative therapies instead. The Centers for Disease Control also issued guidelines in 2016 recommending that providers elect non-drug and non-opioid treatment options for pain.
Numerous studies performed in the last decade show that alternative therapies, often used in combination, offer pain relief, improve function and cause little or no harm. Here’s an overview:
- Exercise of all types help reduce pain. It builds muscle that supports the spine, increases blood flow to the tissues in the back, reduces stiffness and increases flexibility. While aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility training each have their own benefits, experts say that doing whatever combination of exercise that you like and can sustain is most important. If you experience pain during exercise, stop and consult your provider (or physical therapist) about what exercise is safe for you.
- Physical therapy involves manipulation, targeted exercises and electrical stimulation to improve mobility and function. It is well recognized in mainstream medicine and is often covered by health insurance.
- Yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that involves movement, stretching, breathing and meditation. It can induce relaxation, decrease pain and improve back function.
- Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that is practiced as defense training and for its health benefits. It is known for its slow movements and can help reduce back pain.
- Pilates is an exercise regime that focuses on stabilizing and strengthening the body’s core through exercises done in a specific order with precision and control. Like the other forms of exercise described, Pilates may help reduce pain. Any exercise is better than no exercise so if you enjoy it, do it.
- Psychotherapy can help people understand the effect the mind has on the body and vice versa. Through cognitive behavioral therapy, it is possible to learn relaxation techniques, stress management tools and other ways to help cope with pain.
- Spinal manipulation is a manual therapy done by applying force to the spinal joints. Such adjustment can provide relief for some by correcting spinal misalignment that may be causing pain. Chiropractors and physical therapists are trained to perform spinal manipulation.
- Massage involves applying pressure to the body primarily with the hands to help release stress and pain. While the effects of massage may not be long-lasting, it can help relax the mind and body for a period of time.
- Acupuncture is traditional Chinese medicine that uses needles inserted in the skin to improve the flow of energy (or qi) through the body. It is used to treat lower back pain and also can induce a sense of calm.
Many people are finding relief through the use of one or more of these therapies. Your KnovaSolutions nurse can help you learn more, reduce your reliance on medications and help you discuss options with your doctor. Call KnovaSolutions at 800/355-0885, Monday through Friday, 8 am – 5 pm, Mountain Time.
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The information contained in this newsletter is for general, educational purposes. It should not be considered a replacement for consultation with your healthcare provider. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.