Physicians often prescribe pain medication as a first line of therapy for lower back pain, according to the American College of Physicians. Now, the college’s new guideline on lower back pain treatment is encouraging patients to try massage, yoga, exercise, acupuncture and other similar therapies before reaching for a pain killer. Being active and waiting it out might, in some cases, be all that’s needed for the pain to go away, according to the guideline.
“For acute back pain, the analogy is to the common cold,” spine researcher Rick Deyo, MD, MPH, said in an article published in February by the New York Times. “It is very common and very annoying when it happens. But most of the time it will not result in anything major or serious.”
Lower back pain is one of the most common reasons for physician visits in the U.S., according to the guideline published Feb. 14. “Low back pain is associated with high costs, including those related to healthcare and indirect costs from missed work or reduced productivity,” researchers wrote in the guideline. They developed the guideline after reviewing studies on treating lower back pain.
Their recommendations include the following:
• Most patients with acute lower back pain improve over time regardless of treatment. These patients should choose heat, massage, acupuncture or other methods, rather than pain killers.
• Patients with chronic lower back pain should first choose treatment involving exercise, acupuncture, mindfulness-based stress reduction, tai chi, yoga, biofeedback and other nonmedicine-based therapies.
• Patients with chronic lower back pain who haven’t responded to nonmedication treatment should choose nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs first. Opioids should only be used if the potential benefits outweigh risks for patients.
A recent online blog on Spine-Health.com offered similar suggestions for treating lower back pain without using medication.
• Get aerobic exercise.
• Exercise the core.
• Receive massage therapy.
•Address any sleep problems.
• Stretch hamstrings twice daily.
• Use heat or cold to soothe pain.