Beat Back Pain — Naturally!

Beat Back Pain — Naturally!

by Catherine Winters

Five drug-free ways to get relief.


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Got low back pain? Welcome to the club. Some 80 percent of Americans will  experience it at some point, reports the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For up to 8  percent, the problem will be chronic, lasting three months or longer. Medicine,  muscle relaxants, physical therapy and chiropractic care are mainstays in the  quest for back pain relief. But there’s evidence natural remedies may help, too.  One caveat: No one can say for sure how they help, and not everyone will  benefit. But they’re worth a try. Here’s a look at the most promising.

Yoga. In a Boston  University pilot study, back pain patients were given tips for  spine-friendly moves (like the right way to lift or sit at a computer), and  therapies like ice and heat. But some also attended hatha yoga classes weekly  for 12 weeks and were encouraged to do a daily half-hour of yoga. At the end of  the study, 67 percent of the yoga students enjoyed a major reduction in pain,  use of medicine and disability. By contrast, just 40 percent of the non-yogis  improved their ability to function and a scant 13 percent got pain relief or cut  back on medicine. What’s more, while yoga practitioners no longer needed  hard-core prescription painkillers, the non-yogis upped their usage from 10 to  33 percent. How does yoga help? It may condition muscles in the abs and  buttocks—which support the spine—as well as the lower back, speculates  researcher Dr. Robert B. Saper, director of integrative medicine at Boston  Medical Center. Plus, yoga’s calming effects may ease pain.

Acupuncture. According to a 2009 study in the Archives of Internal  Medicine, 60 percent of back pain sufferers who had 10 acupuncture  treatments over seven weeks were better able to do everyday activities; just 30  percent of those who got usual care could. One year later, up to 65 percent of  acupuncture recipients were still doing well compared to half of those who  didn’t get acupuncture. But even sham acupuncture, delivered by a toothpick,  helped. It’s unclear whether the treatment, actual or sham, has a placebo  effect, or whether sham therapy affects the same neurotransmitters as the real  deal, notes study co-author Dr. Richard Deyo, professor of evidence-based  medicine at Oregon  Health & Science University in Portland.

Heat therapy. An over-the-counter wrap—which delivers  continuous low-level heat—slashed the intensity of garden-variety back pain by  52 percent, reported researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. All 43 people in the study  took pain medicine as needed but 25 also wore heat wraps eight hours a day for  three consecutive days. Two weeks after the study ended, “the benefit  persisted,” says Dr. Edward J. Bernacki, study leader and director of  occupational medicine.

Posture work. The Alexander Technique (AT), which releases tension and  improves posture, balance and movement, has short- and long-term back benefits,  according to a British study. Compared with a group who received usual care,  patients who had 24 lessons in the Alexander Technique had 16 fewer days of pain  after three months and 18 fewer days of pain after one year. A group receiving  massages experienced 13 fewer days of pain after three months and only seven  days after one year. Even a mere six lessons in AT resulted in 11 and 10 fewer  painful days at the three month and one-year marks.

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