Understanding and Evaluating Alternative Treatments for Back Pain

While there are many medications, both over the counter medications and prescription medications used to treat back pain, preforming regular exercise and physical therapy should usually be the first type of treatment. This is because most available medications used to treat back pain are actually only addressing the pain itself and not the actual cause of the pain.

Physical therapy includes regular exercise, but it is actually much more. This is because when seeing a physical therapist, they will prescribe a variety of different techniques that are tailored to the needs of the patient. For example, in addition to low impact exercise, a physical therapist may also recommend massage, heat, ice, and ultrasound treatment, as well as aggressive stretching and posture improvement.

Types of Non-Surgical Back Treatment

Chiropractors and Back Pain

Traditionally, the area of chiropractic medicine and its safeness, as well as effectiveness, is oft debated. Some view the entire profession as scam artists, who will do more harm than good, while others view them as a legitimate type of medicine. However, to someone in pain, it is tempting to explore all options and so many seek the advice of a chiropractic.

Typically, chiropractic medicine focuses on treating subluxations, which refer to the displacement of the facet joints. They will often use phrases like "Your Back is Out of Alignment" or simply "Your Back is Out" to describe the reason the person is experiencing back pain.

To fix the subluxations, chiropractors manipulate the spine and back, to realign the vertebrate. While chiropractors must goto school for several years, the type and level of training varies greatly from one office to the next. Also, there is no actual scientific evidence to suggest that sublexations exists, or for that matter than wrenching the spine is a good type of treatment for back problems.

For those that do try a chiropractor, make sure that you only visit them a few times and do not end up signing any sort of contract for regular adjustments. Also, if the chiropractor does not prescribe any exercises for when at home or focuses on sublexation, this can be a warning sign, as it is an indication that the chiropractor is more concerned about money than treatment.

Make sure to speak with your doctor before visiting a chiropractor.

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Nerve Root Blocks

Nerve Root Blocks are a type of treatment that is used to not only help reduce back pain, but also to aid in diagnosis. A local anesthetic is injected near the nerves of the spine. This causes the nerves to temporarily loose feeling. If the nerve block is effective at removing or reducing the pain, the doctor then knows that the nerve is causing a problem.

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Epidural Steroid Injections

The epidural space is the area that is outside of the dural sac, but inside of the spinal canal. In an Epidural Steriod Injection, a steriod is injected into the epidural space, which serves as an anti-inflammatory. It is used to treat spinal stenosis and up to six epidural steroid treatments are allowed, after which time surgery is typically required.

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While massage is, in some regards, a soft medicine, like chiropractic medicine, it is much safer. This is instead of trying to wrench the spine in place, a masseuse will simply stroke and manipulate areas of the body, such as around certain muscles and tendons.

There are actually a number of different massage techniques.

  • Swedish Massages: A Swedish Massage or a Tradition Massage relies on using strokes that glide across the body, as well as kneading, tapping, and light friction.
  • Rolfing: Rolfing is another massage technique, which uses a very deep massage, usually preforming a 10 part massage.
  • Myofascial Release: Myofascial release is based on the idea that the muscles in the back are too tight, which causes back pain. Basically, it is just another type of deep tissue massage and there is little or no evidence to support the theory.

Europeans usually treat massage as a conventional medicine, which is used to treat back pain. Howver, in the United States, it is usually considered an alternative medicine. There is not a great deal of evidence to support claims that massage is effective at treating back pain, but there have been some studies to show that it is effective.

While there is little evidence that massage is effective at reducing back pain, there are few risks involved, so it is usually fairly safe. In the United States, it is a good idea to use a AMMA, American Medical Massage Association, certified masseuse, as they are required to complete some training and education regarding different massage techniques.

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Pilates and Back Pain

The muscles in the back are incredibly important for allowing full range of movement and supporting the spine. Pilates is a type of exercise that is geared towards strengthening these muscles. In addition to exercises, proper posture and breathing is also enforced.

Due to its rigorous nature, pilates is not recommended for acute back pain, but it has been show as effective at building and maintaining a healthy back. Unlike other exercise regimes, pilates does not require any special type of equipment and is preformed on the floor or on an exercise mat.

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Like Pilates, Yoga is preformed without special tools or equipment, usually on the ground. It is actually over 5000 years old and focuses on proper breathing and stretching positions. The most common type of Yoga is Hatha Yoga, but there are many other kinds. Hatha is mainly focused on stretching, holding, and breathing. Holding the positions, actually helps to strengthen the muscles.

One of the most important parts of Yoga in regards to back pain is the stretching aspect and since it is a relatively low impact exercise, it is considered a good type of exercise for those with back pain.

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Acupuncture is a very old techniques, which has been practiced in Eastern Culture for many thousands of years. It involves using very small needles in special points throughout the body, which are believed to help control the flow of energy. While there is little evidence to support this idea, many people find that it is effective at treating pain.

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Braces are actually one of the oldest types of nonsurgical treatment used to address back pain. The idea is to limit the movements of the back as much as possible, which will allow the back to heal. They greatly improve the stability of the back and can be effective at treating spondylolisthesis.

Often, the braces are custom made to fit the exact needs of the patient, with a number of studies showing that over the counter braces are not effective at treating back pain.

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More and more, doctors are finding that the Mind plays an integral role in healing. From placebos, such as copper bracelets that do not do anything, to actual psychotherapy, a healthy mind and confidence in the treatment is sometimes all that is needed.

Sometimes, back problems are caused by psychological problems, such as a great deal of stress. In these cases, physiotherapy is a good option, but it should not be used to treat serious conditions, such as a herniated disc.

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Special Beds

While most of the special beds that are offered on TV are not effective and are just short of being a scam, having a soft mattress can cause lower back pain. Instead of investing in a special mattress, just make sure that the mattress you do have is firm.

Also, many people find that sleeping on their side, with their hips and knees slightly flexed, is the most comfortable sleeping position.

The same is generally true of massaging beds and massaging chairs, which can certainly feel good, but offer no lasting effects. It is also important to remember that remaining inactive for too long is actually unhealthy for those with back pain.

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Putting someone in traction, which involves stretching and elongating the spine was once thought to be an effective treatment for back pain. Often, the patient would spend a week or two at a hospital in traction, but doctors have no found that traction is no more effective than spending a few days of bed rest at home. However, it can provide temporary relief and is still sometimes preformed.

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A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation unit or TENs unit is used to send electrical impulses to certain muscles in the body. The idea is that these electrical impulses will block the pain signals from being sent to the body, but there is no scientific evidence to support this.

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Protherapy is a treatment that relies on injections of local anesthetic to problem areas. It offers no long term benefits, but can provide short term pain relief.

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Intradiscal electrothermography(IDET) is when an electrical current is sent to the discs of the spine, using a long needle. There is no evidence to suggest this is effective, but the idea is that it heals torn discs.

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Facet Rhizotomy

Like IDET, a large needle is used in Facet Rhizotomy, except instead of electricity, it relies on radiofrequency coagulation to destroy the nerves around the facets. In most people, this will not be effective, but it sometimes will help with people who have a facet joint disease.

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This treatment is no longer used and is not effective, but involved injecting enzymes into torn discs. Sometimes, the patient would have a very serious allergic reaction to the treatment.

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Avoiding Scams

When it comes to back pain, and for that matter virtually any type of disorder, there are always a number of miracle cures, which have no basis in reality. For example, copper bracelets and magnets are commonly billed as helping to reduce pain or help with arthritis. However, in truth, there is absolutely no evidence that these types of things actually help. Instead, when these treatments are effective, it is as a result of the placebo effect, which is when the mind believes something is helping.

When in doubt, before trying anything you see on TV, make sure to speak with your doctor, as there is a good chance that it is a scam.

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