Most back pain resolves on its own, with or without therapies. However, some people suffer a chronic low back pain that lasts for six to eight weeks, and necessitates medication or even surgery. There are alternative therapy options for chronic back pain that does not require surgery or medication. These work to relieve pain, ease muscle tension, correct posture and improve muscle strength and joint stability.
Let’s take a look at them.
Spinal or chiropractic manipulation
Chiropractors or osteopaths perform spinal manipulation. Chiropractors use their hands, and sometimes, additional tools to manipulate the joints of the body, especially the spine to relieve pain. Studies show that chiropractic treatment is effective in relieving both, sudden, acute pain and chronic pain. Force is applied precisely to a localised region to free a joint that was initially restricted in movement. A ‘popping’ or ‘crackling’ sound take place as the joint is unlocked, which is a result of the sudden gapping of the joint. This is quite similar to how the joints of fingers are made to ‘pop’ when someone crackles their knuckles.
Acupuncture for back pain
Acupuncture is part of a traditional Chinese therapy that aims to balance the flow of energy in the body. The treatment involves inserting fine needles into specific points or meridians in the body. The U.S National Institutes of Health list acupuncture as a viable treatment option for low back pain.
An acupuncturist is a certified professional who performs 30-minute sessions over the course of several weeks. Treating low back pain with acupuncture can be a complex process because several meridians affect this area of the body (including liver, kidney, gall bladder and bladder). A comprehensive approach may be used in the treatment, which may involve specialised massage and warming herbal oils over specific acupuncture points (moxibustion).
Mindful movement (Yoga and T’ai chi)
Mindful movement includes movement-based therapies like yoga, t’ai chi, Alexander technique and the Feldenkrais technique. These mind-body methods use different positions and movements to relieve back pain.
- Yoga – Yoga elicits relaxation response from the body while also developing body awareness, which is useful in realigning body posture and releasing muscle tension. Yoga essentially combines focused breathing and slow, gentle stretching exercises. Different yoga poses can be done while sitting, standing or lying on the floor, making it an easy activity to incorporate in one’s daily routine.
- Tai chi – Originally developed for self-defence, tai chi is now counted as a graceful exercise form, often described as meditation in motion. It is an ancient Chinese tradition that involves a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner, accompanied by deep breathing. Each posture flows into the next without pause, causing the body to be in constant motion. Benefits of tai chi include reduced stress and anxiety, increased energy and flexibility, balance and agility. However, those having back pain, joint issues, fractures, osteoporosis or hernia should consult their doctor before taking up tai chi.
- Alexander technique – This technique was developed over 100 years ago by Frederick Alexander to help people develop awareness of and stop habits and muscle use that contributes to pain. Hands-on instructions guide patients towards postural improvement and techniques for walking, sitting, standing and other activities. Alexander technique works to release tension and decompression of spine and create more flexibility and balanced muscle activity.
- Feldenkrais technique – This method retrains the body through two techniques: awareness through movement (ATM) and individual sessions of functional integration (FI). The technique identifies various movement patterns in an individual and helps him/her gain control over them so that these can be changed to relieve muscle tension, spasm and myofascial rigidity.
Massage is a soft tissue technique with a variety of procedures that can treat and prevent short-term and long-term back issues. Back massage therapy involves a patient lying facedown on a table as a masseuse works the muscles, fascia and other soft tissue of the affected area. Sometimes, acupressure is also incorporated in massage treatment, i.e. application of pressure to specific points on the body known as ‘acupoints’ that are connected to the problem area.
For musculoskeletal problems like low back pain, myofascial massage is beneficial (relaxation of contracted muscles to improve blood flow and lymph circulation). Swedish massage employs five different styles of long, flowing strokes (gliding, friction, kneading, vibration and tapping) to reduce spasm and stiffness, improve blood circulation and provide relaxation.
Homeopathy is a system of medicine that involves treatment of ailments through highly diluted forms of medicine, given mainly in tablet form (there are few medicines given in form of ointment, gels or sprays for external application), in order to trigger the body’s natural system of healing. Homeopathic medicines are prescribed as single prescriptions or as formula of two or more medicines combined together. Though there have been limited studies on the effectiveness of homeopathic treatment on back pain, homeopaths prescribe a remedy based on individual patient’s condition.
Castor oil packs
Castor oil is applied directly on the skin of the affected area, covered with a plastic wrap or clean soft cloth, and a heat source is placed over the pack for 30 to 60 minutes. This treatment is repeated over the course of three days.
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