Alternative Treatments for Spondylosis
Complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) are a treatment option for spondylosis (also known as spinal arthritis or spinal osteoarthritis). Complementary and alternative treatments are just what the name suggests: They either complement (used in conjunction with) or are an alternative to traditional "Western" medicine. CAM is a catch-all name for practices and therapies that aren't considered part of conventional medicine right now.
For spondylosis, you may want to try:
Acupuncture/Acupressure: Developed in China, acupuncture uses very fine needles—and no medication—to treat your pain. Practitioners believe that you have an energy force called your 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 works to restore a healthy, energetic flow of Chi.
Acupuncture needles are almost as thin as strands of hair. Based on your symptoms and exact diagnosis, a practitioner will insert the needles; you'll most likely have multiple needles inserted during one session. The practitioner will target precise points in your body's meridians, and the needles will be left in for 20 to 40 minutes. It's been suggested that acupuncture needles cause your body to release certain neurochemicals, such as endorphins or serotonin, and they help in the healing process.
Acupressure works like acupuncture in that it focuses on those meridians. However, instead of needles, the practitioner uses his/her thumbs, fingers, and elbows.
Herbal Remedies/Supplements: Before trying any herbal remedies or supplements, make sure you do your research and talk to your doctor. Even though herbs are natural, there may still 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 spondylosis are:
- 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 spondylosis (spinal arthritis or spinal osteoarthritis). You can take it in a capsule.
- Ginger: Ginger can be used an anti-inflammatory. You can make your own ginger tea by adding a teaspoon of fresh, grated ginger to hot water.
- Glycosaminoglycans: Glucosamine and/or chondroitin sulfate are two examples of glycosaminoglycans. They can be taken separately or in combination. They're made from natural sources, and they've been shown to sometimes improve the symptoms of spondylosis.
- SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine): It's been suggested that SAMe is useful for the age-related "wear and tear" spinal conditions—those conditions that can develop as the result of getting older. Spondylosis is one of those "wear and tear" conditions, along with degenerative disc disease. As a bonus, there have been several studies that show SAMe is also good for treating depression. (People suffering from chronic pain can become depressed because of how the pain changes their lives. Their chronic condition can also affect their body's nervous system chemistry, leading to a chemical imbalance and perhaps depression.)
- 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; spondylosis can cause both. White willow bark also provides relief for acute back pain.
Massage: Getting a massage is a way to relax your muscles, as well as calm your mind. A good massage therapist can work out tight muscles and relieve muscle spasms. In spondylosis, the muscles surrounding the spine often become very tense, adding to your pain. A massage should help release that muscle inflammation and pain.
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?)
Yoga/Pilates: Both these forms of exercise work on the mind-body connection to help you focus on your breathing while doing controlled movements. They can help relax your body as you strengthen your core and spinal muscles. However, yoga and/Pilates may not be the right exercise for you, so please talk to your doctor before beginning a program.