4. Physical Therapy
When it comes to managing pain in your lower back, there are literally billions of different treatment options available. Surgery, medication, supplements, braces, exercises. You name it, someone has probably adapted it to help with low back pain. Low back pain is often challenging to treat since in most cases there is no known cause and x-rays or imaging often don't show you what is wrong. The good news is that most cases of low back pain will resolve on their own, but for those who have experienced the agony of recurring bouts of pain, more help is often needed.
Medication for low back pain
While there are many individuals who successfully use medications such as NSAIDs or opioids to manage their pain, these products do come with their own risks and side effects. Acetaminophen has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack, digestive system bleeding, and loss of kidney function. Opioids have been shown to be dependence-producing and the risk of overdosing is high for many who take them. Long term use of NSAIDS increases your risk of stroke, kidney failure, and stomach ulcers.
It comes as no surprise then that many people who struggle with chronic lower back pain are looking for ways to manage their lower back pain at home, and are hoping to find alternative treatments to try before succumbing to surgery. In the past surgery was looked at as one of the best ways to resolve chronic low back pain but studies have found that surgery is really only effective in about 50% of cases. Surgery also comes with many risks and complications for people to consider.
Natural Ways To Relieve Low Back Pain
Fortunately, over the past decade or two, researchers have been studying different natural ways to relieve pain for those with chronic back issues. Many of these have been overlooked remedies for low back pain and yet have quite a bit of science to support their use. They are non-invasive, do not involve medication, are often free or relatively inexpensive, and have very few negative issues associated with them. With that in mind we have put together our top list on how to find lower back pain relief with 5 natural treatments.
Yoga For Low Back Pain
Yoga is an eastern meditation practice that offers back pain sufferers a way to manage their back pain naturally. Yoga involves the practice of breath control, simple meditation, and the use of specific body poses. When it comes to managing back pain, yoga is a wonderful way to incorporate stretching, physical therapy, strengthening exercises, and deep breathing. Yoga is also a wonderful way to incorporate stress-relief and self-care into your daily or weekly routine. Stress is an often-overlooked cause of low back pain.
Recent studies that have been done on mild to moderate chronic low back pain sufferers have shown positive results. One study, led by Dr. Robert Saper at the Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, studied 320 racially diverse adults with moderate to severe chronic low back pain. The results showed that all patients reported improvement in physical function and pain reduction. The people in the yoga groups were likely to stop taking pain relievers after one year, suggesting that “a structured yoga program may be a reasonable alternative to physical therapy for people with chronic low back pain.”
Mindfulness Meditation For Low Back Pain
Mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation that helps you to focus on being in the moment and honoring your emotions and feelings without interpretation or judgement. It allows you to slow down racing thoughts, release negative thoughts and energy, and helps to calm your body and your mind. The practice often makes use of specific breathing methods and guided imagery. Mindfulness meditation can be practiced on its own, or as a complement to yoga, and it has shown some very promising results in scientific studies. This has led to its practice as being increasingly popular among those looking for a natural way to relieve pain.
In 2017 researchers reviewed more than 37 different trials that had been done on the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation interventions for the treatment of chronic pain in adults. The results of the review found that “Mindfulness meditation was associated with statistically significant improvement in depression, physical health-related quality of life, and mental health-related quality of life.” The researchers acknowledged that many of the trials had been done on similar types of patients and that we need more studies done on more diverse populations.
Pilates For Low Back Pain
Pilates is another great activity that can help to both stretch and strengthen muscles, and it, too, involves quite a bit of intentional breath work. Pilates is a type of low impact exercise that aims to strengthen your muscles while improving posture and flexibility. Originally designed to help rehabilitate injured athletes, Pilates focuses on targeting and strengthening your core muscles in order to help support your spine properly. Pilates can be done on a special type of equipment, called a Pilates Reformer, or it can be done just on a mat on the floor.
In 2019 a study was published in the Journal Of Physical Therapy Science that also reviewed many other studies that had been conducted on the effectiveness of Pilates on patients with non-specific low back pain. 8 articles were included in this review. Overall it was found that “patients with chronic low back pain showed statistically significant improvement in pain relief and functional ability compared to patients who only performed usual or routine health care.” In the 5 RCT (randomized control trial) articles that compared the effects of Pilates to minimal intervention, they found that 6-12 weeks of Pilates training is better than minimal intervention in reducing short term pain. Another study showed that 12 weeks of Pilates (24 total hours of training) could reduce chronic low back pain for 24 weeks.
Biofeedback For Low Back Pain
Biofeedback is a technique that is starting to gain in popularity as a more natural way of increasing muscle relaxation and engagement in order to reduce low back pain. Biofeedback uses electrical sensors, connected to your muscles, to receive information on muscle activity. Highly trained and skilled professionals are able to interpret this data (much like an ECG for your heart ) to see how your muscles are functioning, and to help you make changes to those muscles, such as encouraging either engagement or relaxation. In a nutshell, biofeedback helps you to control your body with the aim of improving physical performance or helping to manage health conditions. EMG biofeedback sensors allow the patient and the clinician to have information on muscle functioning that is not possible with manual palpation or visual observation.
Some of the ways that EMG biofeedback sensors are being used to treat low back pain are:
Measuring muscle activity
Seeing muscle fatigue
Helping to teach muscle balance
Ensuring proper engagement of the correct muscles for certain activities and exercises
Help us understand just how we are using our muscles
Helping to prevent further injury during exercises or training.
Since biofeedback has been around for some time, there is a lot of positive data to support its use in treating chronic low back pain patients. A study by Flor et al. in 1991 found that “SEMG biofeedback of the lumbar muscles in subjects with “mild” chronic back pain was superior to cognitive behavioral counseling and medical “treatment as usual” in outcome measures of pain, functional interference, and affective distress. Another study found that EMG biofeedback training of lumbar muscles in static postures was associated with significant improvements in cognitive and behavioral indices of chronic low back pain for up to a 2.5 year follow up.
Physical Therapy For Low Back Pain
Physical therapists are healthcare professionals who specialize in rehabilitating injuries, as well as treating general wear and tear on our bodies. Physical therapy is another highly effective way of treating low back pain symptoms such as stiffness, and weak muscles. Teaching patients specific exercises to help strengthen their core muscles and providing workouts that help improve flexibility are just some of the ways that physical therapists help to address low back pain issues. Physical therapy aims to get patients back to being able to perform all their regular daily activities with minimal limitations and less pain.
Research has shown that starting physical therapy as soon as possible after an acute low back pain episode can save patients money, as well as reducing the need for surgery and medication. Patients who saw a physical therapist first were 89% less likely to get an opioid prescription, 28% less likely to need imaging tests, and 15% less likely to visit an emergency room.
It is quite amazing to see all of the natural alternatives for treating low back pain that are on offer to consumers now. All of the treatments above are recommended by international guidelines for low back pain and are thoroughly researched to look at both effectiveness and safety.
Natural remedies and exercises may not work equally for all types of low back pain, and they may not provide adequate relief for severe low back pain. When patients have severe pain, it is often recommended to try combining certain therapies for what is known as a synergistic effect - basically one treatment can boost the other.
If you are experiencing severe back pain, including pain that might be related to an existing health condition (or a red flag condition) you should make an appointment to see your healthcare provider immediately. They will be able to review your specific medical history and can run further tests to see if there is anything more serious happening. We would love to know if you have tried any of these treatments for your low back. Let us know what your favorite one is!