If you’ve ever slouched in your desk chair at work, lifted heavy objects without using your knees for support or clinched your shoulders when life got stressful, these movements may have come back to haunt you in the form of back pain.
Back pain can resolve on its own. Or it can persist despite treatment.
“Fortunately, for most people, the pain will resolve itself with appropriate treatment. But for others, pain relief can be hard to find. All options must be considered,” says Marni Hillinger, MD, a physiatrist at Scripps Clinic. She specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine.
Dr. Hillinger says complementary and integrative therapies can help people who are struggling with back pain. “These therapies can provide a framework for making positive health behavior changes, help promote self-efficacy and give you greater hope for recovery.”
Integrative medicine takes a holistic or whole-body approach to health care and wellness. Providers examine both physical and psychosocial elements of health, such as emotional, spiritual and behavioral well-being.
In 2017, the American College of Physicians (ACP) recommended several integrative health approaches to alleviate back pain.
ACP defined pain as:
- Acute, (lasting less than four weeks)
- Subacute (four to 12 weeks)
- Chronic (more than 12 weeks).
Patients with acute and subacute back pain may use heat, massage, acupuncture or spinal manipulation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or skeletal muscle relaxants may also help alleviate back pain. These apply to people who are not at risk for a serious underlying condition.
Patients with chronic back pain may use exercise, rehabilitation, acupuncture, stress reduction, tai chi, yoga and biofeedback. All are first line of therapies.
Here is additional information for some of these therapies.
Excess weight can contribute to back pain. Consider introducing low-impact exercise and a proper diet into your daily routine. This can help reduce fear of movement and improve your fitness level and body weight.
Gentle stretching into various yoga poses can increase strength and flexibility. Breathing exercises and meditation can help ease stress. Yoga can help improve muscle tone, reduce fear of movement and help you relax.
“There are several types of yoga. Make sure to pick one that matches your physical abilities and does not worsen your symptoms,” Dr. Hillinger says.
Acupuncture originated in ancient China. It is widely practiced in the West. It involves inserting very thin needles through the skin at specific points in the body to help reduce pain. “Acupuncture can have an anti-inflammatory and relaxation effect by releasing endorphins — the body’s natural pain reliever,” she says.
For a soothing way to relieve back pain and relax muscles, consider massage therapy. The healing touch can help decrease pain and relieve anxiety related to your back pain.
Biofeedback uses medical sensors and other special equipment to monitor your brain waves and vital signs. Biofeedback information can help you adjust your thought patterns and physiological responses.
“Biofeedback can help you learn to control involuntary bodily processes,” Dr. Hillinger says. “This can help decrease your pain and stress response.”
Consider all options when it comes to treating back pain that won’t go away. Doing so may reduce your chances of long-term disability and help you return to full function.
“Make sure to tell your doctor everything you’ve done to relieve your back pain. This includes psychosocial and environmental factors or anything that may be preventing you from full recovery,” she says.
“You want to feel empowered to have greater control over your back pain. It’s important to fully participate in any decision when it comes to your health care.”