Got Back Pain: New Guidelines Recommend Alternative Therapies

Back pain is one of the most common health concerns in the United States. It is estimated that 85% of people will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. Until last week, many back pain suffers were likely advised to take a pain medication like ibuprofen and told to rest.

Now, new guidelines by the American College of Physicians advise trying alternative therapies like exercise, mindfulness-based stress reduction, acupuncture, massage, biofeedback, and yoga, before patients consider pharmaceutical pain options. The guidelines also advise that steroidal injections and acetaminophen (i.e. Tylenol) are not helpful in the treatment of back pain, and that physicians should avoiding opioid prescriptions for back pain.

This is a fairly big shift from previous recommendations, by making non-drug treatments more commonplace. Many of these therapies help speed up healing by relaxing muscles, and tendons, which is a shift from drug therapies often aimed at symptom reduction.

These recommendations are for acute back pain, similar to what you might get after shoveling snow from the driveway. This is the type of pain that lasts less than a month and will usually go away on its own if given enough rest. 

For chronic back pain sufferers the guidelines suggest trying alternative therapies first, and then if needed, taking a medication to reduce the inflammation, such as ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is a non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID, which differs from acetaminophen (Tylenol) in that it will reduce the inflammation as well as the pain.

As a Naturopathic physician and an acupuncturist, I have found, similar to the recommendations, that back pain often responds well to a more complex approach. In our office, many of these therapies are already the norm for back pain treatment, and its exciting to see them validated.

My patients have likely heard me define health as “freedom from limitation.” For many people, back pain can hinder their ability to fully engage in other aspects of life. I have seen back pain impact everything from marital relationships, depression and job satisfaction to other health issues like high blood pressure. The good news however, is that many of these back pain sufferers might now find new relief and health from a broader acceptance of existing alternative therapies.

Chad BorysComment