For Back Pain, Physicians Say Try Massage Before Pills
April 26, 2017

New guidelines from the American College of Physicians (ACP) recommend trying exercise, yoga, or massage before medication for acute low-back pain. The guidelines were published in the February 2017 Annals of Internal Medicine. 

Researchers analyzed more than 150 studies looking at what works and what doesn’t when it comes to low-back pain.

ACP president Nitin Damle, MD, says “garden variety back pain” – not the kind that radiates down your leg or causes numbness – usually goes away on its own. “The body will adjust, the inflammation will go down,” Damle says. It may take a few days or even a week, but eventually the individual will be back to normal.

So, Damle asks, why risk the side effects of medication? Side effects can include gastritis, upset stomach, a rise in blood pressure, and addiction. Instead, the new guidelines suggest techniques to speed up the healing process, including massage, heat wraps, acupuncture, and spinal manipulation, which can “relax the muscles, joints, and tendons so people can be relieved of their low-back pain sooner, rather than later.”

Primary care physician Steven Atlas, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who practices at Massachusetts General Hospital, describes the guidelines as a needed change. “We are moving away from simple fixes like a pill to a more complex view that involves a lot of lifestyle changes,” he says.

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