Alternative Treatments for Back Pain
Acupuncture, Herbal Remedies, and Massage
If you have back pain, you have many treatment options to choose from, including alternative treatments. Your doctor may even suggest treatments such as acupuncture, herbs, or massage as part of your treatment plan. These options are called "alternative" because they're an alternative to "traditional" medicine, which generally means medications, injections, and surgery.
- Acupuncture or Acupressure: These alternative treatments developed in China. Practitioners believe that you have an energy force called Chi. (It can also be spelled Qi, but both forms are pronounced "chee.") When this force is blocked, you can develop physical illness, such as back pain. Therefore, you need to free up your body's Chi channels, which practitioners call your meridians. Acupuncture and acupressure work to restore a healthy, energetic flow of Chi.
Acupuncture uses very fine needles, and practitioners insert them into precise points in your body's meridians—exactly where is determined by your symptoms. The needles, which contain no medication, are left in for 20 to 40 minutes. Research has shown that the presence of the needles causes your body to release certain neurochemicals, such as endorphins, and they help in the healing process.
Acupressure works along the same principles as acupuncture, except practitioners use their thumbs, fingers, and elbows to target the specific Chi points.
- Herbal Remedies: Before trying any herbal remedies, do your research and talk to your doctor. There may be side effects that you're unaware of—an herbal remedy could interfere with a prescribed medicine you're taking, for example. Some herbal remedies you may want to consider for your back pain are:
- Capsaicin Cream: Capsaicin is what makes chili peppers hot, and it can also relieve your pain. It just temporarily reduces your pain, though, so you'll need to keep re-applying, probably around 4 to 5 times a day. It may take several weeks for you to feel significant relief from capsaicin cream, so just because it doesn't work right away, don't give up.
- Devil's Claw: Devil's claw comes from southern Africa, where it has been used for centuries to treat fever, arthritis, and gastrointestinal problems. It works as an anti-inflammatory. Today, it's used for conditions that cause inflammation and pain, like osteoarthritis. You can take it in a capsule.
- White Willow Bark: The white willow led to the development of aspirin in Europe. If you don't want to take the synthetic version (aspirin can irritate the stomach), use white willow bark. It's for conditions that cause pain or inflammation, like osteoarthritis. It also provides relief for acute back pain.
- Massage: A SpineUniverse survey in early 2008 showed that back pain patients are very satisfied with massage as a treatment option. It actually had the second highest patient satisfaction rating. (You can read about the survey in What Really Gets Rid of Back Pain?) Considering that many cases of back pain are caused by muscle strain and overuse, it's wonderful news that massage is a worthwhile treatment option. A massage can help release muscle tension and relieve muscle inflammation and pain.