Survey sheds light on use of different treatments for neck and back pain symptoms

Jul 28 2011
Consumer Reports recently released the results of a survey that asked subscribers about their use of alternative treatments and solutions for their health problems.

In a number of cases, these patients' doctors were aware of these alternatives, or had even suggested them. For example, 28 percent of those surveyed who got deep tissue massages said their doctor recommended it, usually to alleviate neck or back pain.

Similarly, 21 percent of patients seeing a chiropractor reported doing so on the recommendation of their doctor, while 81 percent of those seeing chiropractors indicated that their doctor was aware of it. One subscriber reported receiving acupuncture treatments for neck pain from her family doctor.

Shiatsu massage was another treatment for back and neck pain, with 57 percent of recipients reporting their doctor had knowledge of their using the treatment. Massage and other alternatives were considered preferable by some because they lack the side effects of medication.

Over-the-counter and prescription medications were the most common treatments for back pain, with chiropractic methods coming in third. Still, 65 percent of those who used chiropractic treatment felt that it helped a lot, which was higher than any other type of treatment.

For back pain, prescription drugs were the second most helpful treatment with 53 percent of users reporting they helped a lot. Deep tissue massage, yoga and pilates followed, at 51, 49 and 49 percent, respectively.

The comparison may be flawed, however, since only 9 percent of respondents did yoga and 3 percent took up pilates to treat back pain, compared to 24 percent who used deep tissue massage, as well as higher percentages for chiropractic treatments and prescription medication.

Shiatsu massages, Swedish massages, accupressure, accupuncture and meditation were used by less than 10 percent of those responding to the survey.

Neck and back pain treatments overlapped significantly, and chiropractic treatment was reported to be significantly helpful for neck pain by most people who used it. It was also the second-most common treatment for neck pain, with 41 percent using it, compared to 56 percent who used over-the-counter medication.

Prescription medications, used by 33 percent, were less common than deep tissue massages, used by 35 percent. Deep tissue massages were rated the second most helpful option, after chiropractic treatments. Consumer Reports noted that some evidence may link chiropractic treatments to severe side effects, including stroke in rare cases.

According to the National Institutes of Health, numerous scientific groups are currently researching alternative and complementary back pain treatment options, which in many cases have not been thoroughly studied. Researchers are evaluating chiropractic, acupuncture and massage therapies against standard care, looking at the effectiveness of symptom relief and the degree to which function is restored to patients.

Scientists are also investigating the changes in pain perception and intensity that some patients experience after spinal cord injuries. The use of radiation in low doses to decrease scarring near the spinal cord and artificial replacements for spinal discs are among treatment options currently being researched.