Alternative Treatments for Back Pain

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If you have back pain, you have many treatment options to choose from, including alternative therapies like acupuncture, herbs, or massage. These options are called "alternative" because they're an alternative to "traditional" or mainstream medicine, which generally means medications, injections, and surgery.
Acupuncture performed on the backAcupuncture uses very fine needles, and practitioners insert them into precise points in your body's meridians—exactly where is determined by your symptoms.Many patients have reported that alternative treatments have helped relieve their back pain. You may want to try:

Acupuncture or Acupressure
These alternative treatments were 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, that may 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, for example.

Some herbal remedies you may want to consider for back pain are:

  • Capsaicin cream: Capsaicin is what makes chili peppers hot, and it may also help relieve your pain. It only temporarily reduces your pain, though, so you'll need to keep re-applying this topical cream, possibly as often as 4 to 5 times a day. It may take several weeks for you to feel significant pain relief from capsaicin cream, so don’t give up if it doesn't work right away.
  • 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 spinal osteoarthritis (spondylosis). 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. Like devil’s claw, it's for conditions that cause pain or inflammation. It also may help relieve acute back pain.

Massage
A 2017 study showed that massage therapy may be an effective non-surgical option for low back pain. (You can read more in Massage a Real Deal Option for Chronic Low 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.

Updated on: 05/31/18
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Care for Your Low Back According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Nicola V. Hawkinson, DNP, RN, RNFA
Adjunct Clinical Professor
New York University College of Nursing
New York, NY
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Care for Your Low Back According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

There are many different therapies within the specialty of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for the treatment of low back pain.
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