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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Back Pain

AcupunctureWhen your back hurts, you understandably want to explore all your options to get relief.

However, some treatment options can seem invasive and intimidating. These include surgeries and strong medications like narcotics.

Other options exist in the form of alternative medicine. Many of these options are evidence-based, a medical term meaning that studies have been conducted to demonstrate their effectiveness.

As a Chesapeake, Virginia based chiropractor and primary spine care management specialist for more than 20 years, I know that when my clients first come to me, many of them are new to chiropractic and are looking for alternative treatments because what they’ve tried in the past hasn’t worked.

In this article, I’ll provide examples of different evidence-based alternative medicine and show how robust science has found chiropractic care to be effective.

Evidence-Based Chiropractic

Chiropractic involves manual manipulation or light force adjustments that affect the musculoskeletal system. This type of care often focuses on the spine. Methods can involve stretching, pressure, and joint manipulation.

Before practicing in the United States, chiropractors must first earn a Chiropractors Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree. They must also pass the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners exam. Lastly, they must be licensed in the state in which they practice. Some chiropractors undergo additional training for subspecialties. They must also completer continuing education credits to maintain their license, in Virginia the license is through the Board of Medicine.

Chiropractic is the most common type of complementary and alternative medicine for back pain. Studies show that chiropractic care has been shown to be effective for back pain. All areas of the back – the neck, the mid-back thoracic region, and the lower-back lumbar region – have shown improvement in studies on chiropractic care.

Chiropractic not only reduces pain in the neck and mid-back. It can also help to improve your daily function, movement, and range of motion in those areas of the back.

Chiropractic can also help lower back pain. As such, it is recommended by the American College of Physicians as a noninvasive treatment for lumbar pain. Pain due to degenerative disc disease can also benefit from chiropractic care. Clinical guidelines from the North American Spine Society also support chiropractic care as an option to help relieve pain for those with a herniated disc in the lumbar region of the back.

The improved pain and function following a chiropractic session can dramatically impact your quality of life. Studies show that chiropractic care can improve back pain both immediately after the session, and in the short-term. This can help to avoid additional, more invasive interventions. For example, getting chiropractic care lowers the risk of needing spinal surgery. It also reduces the risk of being put on narcotics for pain control.

Overall, chiropractic is more budget-friendly in comparison to other methods of controlling back pain like surgery. A study showed that chiropractic leads to cost savings when compared to other methods of managing back pain.

Evidence-Based Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a type of traditional Chinese medicine. In acupuncture, thin needles are inserted at specific points into the skin of the body. The acupuncturist then gently manipulates the needles with their hands or with electric stimulation. This can help treat a variety of conditions including pain.

The requirements to practice acupuncture vary by state. In Virginia, acupuncturists must graduate from a school accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. They also must pass an exam by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

After chiropractic care, acupuncture is one of the most common kinds of complementary and alternative medicine. Evidence shows that acupuncture can help reduce back pain, especially in the neck.

Although commonly used for lower back pain, studies show that acupuncture tends to relieve pain in the lumbar region only immediately after the treatment has been completed. Further, acupuncture does not reduce a person’s need for pain medication. It also may not lead to overall improvements from lower back pain. Nonetheless, the American College of Physicians suggests acupuncture as an option for noninvasive treatment for lumbar pain.

Evidence-Based Massage Therapy

Massage therapy involves manipulating the body’s soft tissues. This may improve pain and wellness. Many different kinds of massage therapy exist. The most common type in the Western hemisphere is Swedish massage, or classical massage.

Other massage subtypes that are less common in the United States include Shiatsu massage. This is a type of Japanese massage in which pressure is applied to certain parts of the body, like acupuncture. Tuina massage, which originated in China. Like Shiatsu, Tuina uses pressure points throughout the body to promote the flow of qi, the body’s vital energy.

State regulations vary in terms of the requirements needed to be a massage therapist. In Virginia, massage therapists must complete a program approved by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. They must also complete a licensing exam. Virginia recognizes the Licensing Examination of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. However, the massage therapist may be licensed if they pass other exams in its place.

Besides chiropractic care and acupuncture, massage is one of the most frequently used types of complementary and alternative medicine. Studies show that massage tends to work best on new-onset low back pain. In contrast, neck pain did not improve with massage in studies.

Evidence-Based Yoga

Yoga is a mind-body practice that originated thousands of years ago in India. Specific physical exercises called poses are combined with breathing techniques and meditation. This may improve balance and range of motion.

Multiple types of yoga exist. These include beginner-friendly Hatha yoga. Vinyasa yoga, an athletic type of yoga, is another option. Kundalini yoga focuses on releasing energy trapped in the lower spine.

Virginia does not currently license yoga instructors. However, private institutions like the Yoga Alliance provide certifications to instructors who have completed extensive yoga training. Instructors can also be credentialed as a Registered Yoga Teacher (R.Y.T.) through the Yoga Alliance.

Studies have found that those with low back pain who practice yoga may find pain relief. Further, yoga can lead to small to moderate improvements in function in those with low back pain. However, the studies also stated that it was unclear if yoga helps with low back pain more than traditional exercise. The American College of Physicians supports yoga as an option to treat lower back pain.

Yoga may also help with neck pain. One study found that yoga led to improvements in those with neck pain in a variety of different domains. These included relieving pain, improving function, bettering the neck’s range of motion, leading to a better overall quality of life, and improving mood.

Evidence-Based Dry Cupping

Dry cupping is a remedy that is documented in many ancient cultures worldwide, including China, Egypt and Greece. Cupping uses a vessel to apply suction to the skin. The skin is then drawn into the vessel via negative pressure. This may increase blood flow. Dry cupping often leaves temporary cup-shaped marks on the skin.

A modern twist on dry cupping is pulsatile cupping. In this form of dry cupping, the negative pressure from the cup is formed by use of a mechanical pump.

No license is required to practice dry cupping. Different licensed practitioners, including massage therapists and acupuncturists, may incorporate cupping into their sessions. Cupping, therefore, may sometimes be given jointly with those other therapies.

One study showed that dry cupping for lower back pain led to improved pain control and quality of life. Further, dry cupping for lower back pain may bemore effective than using NSAIDs. NSAIDs are a common class of over the counter medications that includes ibuprofen (Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Similarly, a study showed thatdry cupping for neck pain relieved pain and was more effective than using a heating pad.

Evidence-Based Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art which consists of gentle exercises and flowing stretches. The movements in tai chi are performed slowly. Often, they are accompanied by deep breathing techniques. The martial art focuses on improving the flow of energy through the body.

No license is needed to teach tai chi. However, tai chi instructors can be certified by the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association if they have successfully completed certain trainings.

Some studies have shown that tai chi helped to improve lower back pain, particularly right after the session. Tai chi may also help improve lower back function. The American College of Physicians supports tai chi as an option in the treatment of lower back pain.

Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine at Precision Spinal Care

At Precision Spinal Care, I support your medical choices, be they in traditional medicine, alternative medicine, or a combination. I perform a thorough examination before any treatment. I also will answer all of your questions after the initial examination and evaluation.

If it is determined that chiropractic is not the best treatment option, I will refer you to an appropriate provider.

We understand that you need to explore all your options when you are seeking relief for your pain. At Precision Spinal Care, our mission is to help you determine the best way to achieve your goals.

Call our office at (757) 382-5555 to speak to the doctor or set up a consultation. You can also set up an appointment through our webpage.

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