Say No to the Knife

Say No to the Knife

A recent study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that people with back pain who underwent massage therapy were about 70 percent more likely to experience meaningful improvements in their functioning than people who received traditional medical care. “Surprisingly, both relaxation [Swedish] and structural [soft tissue] massages were equally beneficial,” says Cherkin, who led the study. Seek a massage therapist who is licensed or certified in your state and has passed the MBLEx licensing exam. If you live in one of the six states that does not currently license massage therapists, look for someone who has passed the National Certification Exam.

Studies have shown that chiropractic spinal manipulation can offer mild-to-moderate relief from low-back pain and is as effective as conventional medical treatments. The American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society recommend spinal manipulation as one of several treatment options to consider when pain does not improve with self-care.

Other noninvasive therapies that chiropractors (as well as other types of practitioners) employ include transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which causes muscles to contract, “promoting more profound relaxation in them,” says New York City-based Karen Erickson, D.C., a spokeswoman for the American Chiropractic Association; ultrasound, which uses sound waves to relax muscles; and cold (low-level) laser treatment, which helps damaged muscle cells repair themselves.

A naturopathic doctor (N.D.) tends to look for the reason for back pain. “A person might have fallen out of a tree on her back as a kid and it didn’t cause much pain at the time, but years later she is wondering why her back hurts,” says Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Michael Cronin, N.D., president-elect of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Naturopaths look at the “whole person” and offer suggestions for supplements, diet and ergonomic fixes. They also often use acupuncture, acupressure and homeopathy.

Homeopathic remedies usually come in the form of small pellets that are placed under the tongue to dissolve. “They are made of highly diluted natural substances that trigger a healing reaction in the body, which may lead to a reduction in pain and inflammation,” says Richard Ezgur, D.C., a chiropractic physician, acupuncturist and homeopath at the Progressive Chiropractic Wellness Center in Chicago. A homeopath can determine the best remedy for your condition.

The National Institutes of Health recommends acupuncture as a treatment option for back pain. A 2007 German study of 1,162 patients published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that low-back pain was better after six months of acupuncture than after conventional therapy.

Once your back starts aching, it creates a ripple effect. For instance, if your left side hurts, you change the way you move, and then your right side hurts. Movement education can stop this vicious cycle. The Alexander Technique teaches you to alter the way you sit, walk, stand and otherwise move to avoid stressing muscles and joints; a 2011 study in Human Movement Science concluded that it helps relieve low-back pain. The Feldenkrais Method focuses on increasing mental awareness to change physical habits that contribute to back pain. The method is helpful if you have strained muscles, poor alignment or a condition known as sacroiliac joint derangement, Fishman says.