Back pain is a very common complaint, affecting up to 30% of people in the United States each year, and it is one that can be difficult to treat. Recent news has raised doubt about the effectiveness of some traditional medical responses to back pain, including surgery, pain relief supplements, and even bed rest.
A study published in May 2010 looked into the effectiveness of complementary and alternative therapies on back pain. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston used data collected as part of the 2002 National Health Interview Study to investigate the “perceivedhelpfulness” of six treatments, including chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, herbal therapy, relaxation techniques, and yoga/tai chi/qi gong.
Chiropractic and massage were the two most common treatments that participants sought out. Although nearly half of participants reported that they had turned to an alternative treatment in conjunction with conventional medicine, only a quarter of them had tried the therapy because of a recommendation from their doctor.
The researchers found that 60% of people who tried at least one of the therapies felt they had received a “great deal” of benefit from the treatment. This rate of satisfaction was highest among chiropractic patients, two-thirds of whom perceived a benefit from their treatment. Just over half of those who used massage or yoga reported that it had helped them (56%). These rates of satisfaction were lower among those who tried acupuncture (42%), herbal therapies (32%), or relaxation techniques (28%).
The researchers could not compare these results against results from nonusers of alternative or complementary therapies for back pain, and the findings are subjective. Yet their study shows that the majority of those who turn to therapies like chiropractic and massage to treat back pain can derive substantial benefit.
Kanodia AK, Legedza ATR, Davis RB, Eisenberg DM, Phillips RS. Perceived benefit of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for back pain: A national survey. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. 2010 May-Jun;23(3):354-62.