Lower back pain has become an epidemic. So many people suffer from this affliction daily, with it lasting for weeks, months, or even years. While for some it may be just an inconvenience, for others, their pain is so severe that they often can’t leave their beds.
Left untreated, problems in the lower back can spread to other areas of the body. You can end up with hip pain, leg pain, and sometimes even spinal pain. The issue is, that not every course of treatment that people pursue is the right one for them.
Surviving with this every day is a complete nightmare, but knowing how to deal with it can be of huge help. So, choose carefully between alternative or mainstream treatments – here’s everything you need to know about lower back pain.
What do We Know?
An estimated 80% of Americans will suffer from a period of lower back pain at some point in their lives. It’s also the second most common cause of disability in the US and the first most common cause worldwide.
Despite the vast number of people dealing with lower back pain, the treatments that are normally prescribed just aren’t working for most people. Things like steroid injections, spinal surgery, opioid painkillers, and other regular treatments aren’t effective enough to rid people of this pain.
More and more studies and research are showing that exercise, massage, yoga, pilates, and other alternative methods are much better at helping people manage their pain. Of course, this is only the case when your doctor has ruled out any serious causes.
The Problem We Face
Although we can see that exercise programs and alternative treatments work well to help treat lower back pain, that’s about all we know. In most cases, healthcare professionals aren’t able to find an underlying cause. They can also be unsure of the best course of treatment for their patient, as well as not having a cure.
Many patients with chronic lower back pain are getting the wrong kind of treatment for them. They’re spending all their money, going through painful or intrusive procedures, or getting hooked on prescription painkillers for nothing. Most of these treatments do nothing to help them, and in some cases, even make things worse.
Even though the mainstream treatments don’t work, back problems are costing American over $90 billion a year. Unsurprisingly, lower back pain is one of the most common reasons that people visit their doctors in the US and in the rest of the world. People are desperate for a cure, but unfortunately, there isn’t one.
Temporary VS Chronic Back Pain
Even though so many people are affected by back pain, about 90% of cases are acute, meaning that the pain goes away in a few days or weeks. Subacute back pain lasts between 4 and 12 weeks but will still resolve itself. These cases are normally treated with opioid painkillers until the patients feel better.
Chronic back pain lasts for over 12 weeks, sometimes lasting a lifetime. Some of these cases are due to obvious causes, but approximately 85% are classed as “nonspecific back pain”. In these cases, the doctors dealing with the patient in question can’t find an underlying cause, and therefore might recommend the wrong treatment plan.
The most common treatments for chronic nonspecific lower back pain are normally surgery, opioids, steroid injections, or best rest. In almost every case, these treatments do more harm than good. In fact, 14,500 people in the US died from opioid-related deaths in 2016 alone, despite the fact that there’s no evidence to say that these painkillers even help lower back pain.
The Dangers of Mainstream Treatments
A recent study compared the use of opioids versus anti-inflammatory drugs for the treatment of chronic lower back pain, as well as other pains. The researches behind it found that opioid painkillers were worse at treating this kind of pain than anti-inflammatories. They also found that they could make the pain worse because of opioid-induced hyperalgesia.
Steroid injections have been shown to help back pain in the short-term, however, the effects wear off. They do nothing to improve the long-term pain of patients. This begs the question of why they’re prescribed in the first place.
Even the use of spinal surgery has proved unnecessary. Most of the patients who receive this treatment show no more improvement than the patients who received different kinds of treatment.
For some severe cases, these treatment options are necessary. Unfortunately, doctors are prescribing these to people who don’t really need them and could benefit from alternative methods instead. These patients could save themselves so much money and stress without mainstream treatments.
Considering Alternative Therapies
Alternative medicine has gotten somewhat of a bad reputation in recent years. When people hear about it, they imagine someone placing a bunch of crystals on their backs and chanting. This is not what we mean in the case of alternative treatment for back pain.
When discussing alternative methods for treating lower back pain, we’re referring to treatment without the use of drugs or invasive surgeries. These are things such as exercise programs, yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, massage, and chiropractics. These methods have proven to be much more effective for treating nonspecific lower back pain than other treatment plans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that doctors only use drugs and opioid treatments as a last resort. Similarly, the American College of Physicians also stated that doctors should recommend treatments such as exercise or yoga first, and only prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs if nothing else works.
The evidence is showing that drugs, surgeries, and injections are only doing harm to patients who are already in pain. As more research is being done into the effectiveness of alternative therapies, more people are beginning to support it.
The Psychological Aspect
Chronic lower back pain is, of course, a physical problem, but it could also have roots in the psychology of the sufferer. People who suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses are more likely to experience back pain as well.
A multidisciplinary approach takes into account the biopsychosocial view of back pain. This means that it looks at the physical, psychological, and social factors that may be part of a patient’s back pain. For this, there are different types of physical therapy available nowadays that also involve psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy.
Studies have found that this approach works better than physical therapy alone. A multidisciplinary approach can help sufferers in both the short-term and long-term.
Active VS Passive Therapies
When talking about alternative treatment methods for lower back pain, there are two categories that they fall into – active and passive. Both help to relieve pain, as well as to prevent further damage.
Active therapies are any that get the patient moving, such as exercise, yoga, tai chi, physical therapy, and pilates. Passive therapies are methods such as massage, acupuncture, and spinal manipulation. In some cases, psychotherapy is necessary as a passive treatment. This is only when the patient’s back pain may be contributed to mental health problems.
The biggest difference between these two categories is the price. In general, passive treatments tend to be more expensive than active ones. Exercise, yoga, pilates, and tai chi, for example, can all be done from home for free. Things like massage and acupuncture can be quite pricey, leading people to believe that all alternative therapies are expensive.
Pilates, tai chi, and yoga have all had numerous studies done around them involving their usefulness for back pain. Although they do help tremendously, there’s not much evidence to show that they’re any better than any other exercise. It appears that exercise itself is what’s important, what type you choose is up to you.
Research done on the effects of acupuncture for lower back pain is inconclusive. While researchers can’t find much evidence to back up its healing abilities, many people find that it does help their pain. Studies have shown that it does help lower chronic back pain, but this could be due to a placebo effect.
This approach is a passive method of treatment which is carried out by a chiropractor. Practitioners use a skilled approach to move the joints of their patient further than they normally would. This helps to loosen them and ease back pain.
Chiropractics is one of the most popular treatments for chronic lower back pain. It does help patients, but research has found that it doesn’t help any more than over the counter drugs do.
The big plus of spinal manipulation is that patients respond to it quite quickly. You can know within the first one or two sessions if this approach is right for you. If you don’t see any noticeable changes in your back pain fairly quickly, then you can go on to choose a different method that may work better for you.
The only big danger of seeking this kind of treatment is the possibility of damage to the vertebral artery. If this happens, it can put you at a higher risk for a stroke or other such problems. It seems that the rate of this happening is quite small and can be avoided by choosing a highly-trained chiropractor.
If chiropractic treatment doesn’t work for you, then massage still could. There are many different types of massage, most of which focus on the muscles and deep tissue. Some people receive immediate pain-relief from it, with no long-lasting effects. On the other hand, some people find that massage helps their lower back pain in the long term.
What Should You Do?
Dealing with chronic lower back pain is difficult. The first step should always be to visit a doctor to rule out any serious causes. After that, moving is the most important thing that you can do. Even though when you’re in pain, exercising is the last thing that you want to do, it will help to ease your pain.
A recent study found that improving flexibility of the lumbar spine and hamstrings reduces back pain by 18.5% – 58%, and that core stabilization programs reduce it by 39% – 76.8%. In the short-term, they found that aerobic exercise for 20 minutes reduced lower back pain for over 30 minutes for chronic sufferers.
Whatever your exercise of choice is, it’s important that you try it. Most experts agree that movement is the single biggest thing that sufferers of chronic lower back pain can do to help their symptoms. It can be walking, running, yoga, swimming, Pilates, tai chi, or whatever you find helps you the most.
The default treatment for chronic lower back pain are methods that have proven unsuitable. Healthcare professionals need to take a step back and see what other options are available. Its sometimes in their best interest to push drugs, steroids, and invasive procedures on their patients. It’s not, however, in the best interest of the patient or the state.
If you suffer from chronic lower back pain, then consider alternative treatments to help ease your pain. Share this article with anyone you know who’s also suffering to help them make a well-informed decision before they seek treatment.