By Young Lee
Chronic low back pain is one of the most common neurological ailments in the United States, second only to headaches. Why is it so common? Part of the problem is the sedentary nature of our modern lifestyle; if you sit in an office chair all day long, your back muscles are going to pay the price. Physical labor can take a toll on your back too, however; heavy lifting and similar tasks can sometimes cause serious back injuries. The tension associated with stress and anxiety can also contribute to back pain. Sometimes back pain is simply genetic. Whatever the cause, there’s no doubt that chronic low back pain can be incredibly difficult to cope with.
If you suffer from chronic back pain, you know how debilitating it can be. Though your pain may be overwhelming at times, don’t despair: there are many different treatment options, and some you may have never considered before. Here are your best bets.
Massage was once considered an indulgent luxury, a relaxing yet wholly unnecessary frivolity. Recently, however, studies have shown that massage actually has some very real medical benefits. In a recent study, Swedish massage administered over the course of 10 weeks helped reduce pain in chronic low back pain sufferers better than over-the-counter drugs, such as ibuprofen. More than a third of the subjects reported that their pain was nearly, and sometimes completely, eradicated.i Thanks to findings like these, massage is now increasingly accepted by the medical community as a legitimate treatment option.
The practice of yoga encourages flexibility, strength, and stress relief—all of which can help alleviate back pain. Multiple studies have confirmed that regularly practicing yoga does in fact help the majority of chronic low back pain sufferers.ii One caveat: a very small minority participants of one study actually saw their back pain increase after yoga.iii If you decide to go the yoga route, listen to your body and talk to your doctor if you notice your pain getting worse.
For a long time, acupuncture was not taken seriously by Western doctors, who couldn’t understand how poking small needles into a patient’s skin could provide any sort of tangible, measurable benefits. Recently, however, studies have shown that acupuncture does in fact have some real medical merit, especially in the realm of pain relief. One study in particular looked at acupuncture in relation to chronic low back pain and found that participants who received legitimate acupuncture reported high levels of pain alleviation.iv If you decide to give acupuncture a try, choose a well-respected, reputable and experienced acupuncturist.
There are many different medications that can help you with your back pain. Over-the-counter drugs are easily accessible and inexpensive, but taking them too often can be problematic; for example, long-term ibuprofen use can damage your stomach and intestines. Doctor-prescribed muscle relaxants can help get you through flare-ups or spasms, but the side effects of these drugs make them implausible for consistent use. Opioids can provide effective relief, but should only be used for short periods of time. A surprising class of medications that can help low back pain is antidepressants, which work by affecting the neurotransmitters that communicate pain. Luckily, you don’t just have to rely on your local Walgreen’s pharmacy technician to understand all the medications that can help you—just ask your physician.
When you’re in the throes of low back pain, moving around is often the last thing you want to do. It turns out, however, that gentle exercise is one of the best ways to help your back feel better. If your back pain is intense, try going for short, slow walks to help loosen up the muscles. When your pain is more manageable, aerobic exercise and stretching can help prevent further flare-ups.