In the United States, 8 out of every 10 people will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. It’s a common problem, so common in fact that a mountain of treatments have been developed to help alleviate the pain. Here, we share a comprehensive look at noninvasive treatment options for low back pain.
What is lower back pain and how can it be treated?
Lower back pain is a combination of a dull, aching, sharp, and stabbing sensation. The pain ranges between mild and severe, and may even cause a tingling or burning feeling. Sometimes, there is also a pain in the legs.
Overall, lower back pain imposes a stiffness that makes standing difficult. While there are different types of back pain (see Table 1), the exact treatment solution is difficult to pinpoint because there are many causes. A common cause is a strain or a tear in the muscle or ligaments that support the back. Lower back pain can also be an indicator of a serious condition, so it is important to talk with a health care professional to rule out cancer or infections of the spine or kidneys.
Table 1. Lower Back Pain Classifications
|Acute low back pain||4 weeks or less|
|Subacute low back pain||Between 4 and 12 weeks|
|Chronic low back pain||12 weeks or longer|
The common types of lower back pain can be treated noninvasively with pharmacological or nonpharmacological approaches. Pharmacological approaches apply specialized medications to reduce pain and swelling in the region as well as relax the muscles. These drugs can be taken by mouth, but can also be absorbed by the body through a shot or an IV tube. There are many over-the-counter options. Nonpharmacological approaches avoid medicine for treatments utilizing heat, exercise, or massage.
What are some treatment options for acute and subacute lower back pain?
For approaches without medicine, heat and massage are the most effective forms of treatment for shorter term lower back pain. Heat is usually applied using a hot pack, which helps reduce pain and speed up a return to daily activities. Massage, on the other hand, is often performed by a trained therapist who rubs the back using various movements and strokes to provide similar effects.
Pharmaceutical options include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen and naproxen), muscle relaxants, and pain relievers (e.g., acetaminophen). Acetaminophen, though a pain reliever, does not seem to have an effect on lower back pain.
Although there are many treatment options, a visit to the doctor should help narrow down some viable options. Some medicine, for example, come with side effects or other contraindications that can negatively affect a person’s long-term health. Depending on the severity of the lower back pain, often nonpharmaceutical approaches are enough to decrease pain and allow for a return to daily physical activity.
One approach, traditional Thai massage therapy, has been in practice for hundreds of years in Thailand. This form of massage therapy combines breathing techniques, stretches, and massage to help relax and provide relief for a participant.
“Noninvasive Treatments for Low Back Pain.” John M. Eisenberg Center for Clinical Decisions and Communications Science. (2016). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK396563/.