The Science On Low Back Pain Is Clear: Drugs And Surgery Should Be Your Last Resort
How do you get rid of back pain? Here’s what the science says.
Low back pain is one of the top reasons people seek medical care in the US – it’s certainly the most common reason patients seek us out at Ascent Chiropractic – and it affects a whopping 29% of adult Americans at any given time. It’s also the leading cause of disability and the top reason for missing work worldwide.
The US spends $90 billion a year on back pain, not even including the estimated $10 to $20 billion in annual lost productivity caused by back pain. And – to no one’s surprise – those numbers are only getting worse as the baby boomer generation gets older.
One thing is clear, though: the global healthcare community is failing those suffering from low back pain. A recent series on low back pain by The Lancet says that the majority of back pain cases are being totally mismanaged based on evidence-backed guidelines pooled from the US, the United Kingdom, and Denmark.
Recommended first-line treatments – such as advice to stay active and to exercise – are routinely overlooked. Instead, health professionals continue to favor less effective (and sometimes downright harmful) treatments such as rest, opioid medications, spinal steroid injections and surgery.
Here’s what evidence says actually works to improve low back pain.
Risk factors for low back pain
The fact is that most back pain sufferers (about 85%) never get an answer on what’s actually causing their symptoms. We do know of a number of risk factors that can increase your risk of developing low back pain. These include physically-demanding jobs that involve lifting and bending, lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, and low levels of physical activity.
Still, most patients with back pain end up with their condition labeled ‘non-specific back pain’. This means that their doctors have no pathological cause to pinpoint — like a tumor, fracture or infection.
Back Pain: Here’s What The Evidence Says Works
Once you’re cleared of these red flags, the guidelines advise self-management as the initial response for persistent low back pain. This includes staying active and doing appropriate exercises and stretches.
Experts recommend yoga and pilates (to restore strength, coordination and control of the deep core stabilizing muscles supporting the spine), Tai Chi, and aerobic exercises (such as walking, swimming and cycling).
Pilates: A 2006 study was one of the first to compare the effects of mainstream medical care vs. pilates exercise on pain levels for physically active people with chronic low back pain. The results? Participants who followed a 4-week pilates program reported a significantly better reduction in pain and disability than those in a control group who received care from a primary care physician. Even more encouraging, the benefit for the exercise group was maintained over a 12-month period.
Yoga: A 2017 study from the Annals of Internal Medicine found that 3 months of daily yoga specifically targeted at relieving low back pain reduced the need for pain medication by over 50%.
Tai Chi: Another 2011 trial explored the benefits of Tai Chi for those with persistent low back pain. Participants who completed a 10-week course of Tai Chi sessions reported less bothersome back symptoms, lowered pain intensity, and decreased disability levels, compared with a control group who continued with their normal medical care regimen.
The Case For Chiropractic
If activity, exercise and stretching fail, guidelines almost universally point to chiropractic care (aka spinal manipulation), massage, and acupuncture – both for those with acute low back pain lasting less than 6 weeks and those with chronic back pain lasting more than 12 weeks.
So what does the research say about chiropractic’s effectiveness in treating low back pain?
A 2013 trial of acute low back pain patients compared the effects of chiropractic care with those of NSAID drugs and placebo on their pain. The chiropractic group fared significantly better than the medication and placebo groups in reducing disability, pain levels and the need for medication. In fact, over 73% of patients who received chiropractic care reported relief from their pain, compared with 17% in the standard-medical-care-only group.
Similar results came from another study of 192 patients with acute low back pain. Participants were randomly allocated to one of three groups: chiropractic manipulation with a placebo medication; muscle relaxers with sham manipulation; or placebo medicine with sham manipulation. All subjects improved over time, but the chiropractic group responded significantly better – with a much bigger decrease in reported pain scores – than the control group.
The Bottom Line On Back Pain
The message to the public and to health professionals is clear. People with back pain need to remain active and seek out non-invasive treatment (like what we do at Ascent Chiropractic) and leave drugs and surgery only as a last resort.
Suffering from back pain, or have friends or family members that could benefit from what we do at Ascent Chiropractic? Looking at the excellent clinical track record of what we do, it’s an easy decision. To get started, make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic in Brookfield by calling 262-345-4166 or with our online scheduling app.