This Christmas, did someone gift you a trendy gadget or gizmo aimed at curing your back pain? From massage chairs to pressure point bands, there are all kinds of items on the market that claim to offer relief for those who suffer from back or neck pain. Physicians tend not to recommend these kinds of devices for people experiencing back pain — while they put a dent in your wallet, they have generally not been proven to give any kind of quantifiable or long-term relief.
A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine put the spotlight on the wide array of non-surgical treatments for chronic back pain. Turns out that rather than gadgets — or even simple devices like shoe inserts — consistent evidence suggests that lifestyle changes, especially exercise, are the most effective way to treat and prevent back pain. Except in cases where patients are experiencing back pain as the result of an acute injury or as a side effect of a more serious issue, the study’s authors argue that exercise can help provide some relief from chronic back pain.
But as many of us know, it can be extremely difficult to enact — and more importantly, sustain — an exercise plan. Not sticking with a plan is one reason why many back pain sufferers who try exercise say it is ineffective; it takes time to experience the benefits. Another reason back pain sufferers may not feel exercise works is because they are not actually doing the right kind of exercise or working out at the proper intensity for their condition. In other cases, people may experience normal muscle soreness that goes along with exercise and believe incorrectly that this means the exercise is ineffective.
If you are hoping to relieve your back pain through exercise, it’s vital that you work with a physician. You need to be sure that the kind of exercise program you’re pursuing is appropriate for your condition, and that it won’t make it worse. However, a recent story on NPR noted that doctors are not likely to recommend exercise as a course of treatment because patients often don’t feel that it is a “real” treatment. In American culture, the story contended, we tend to associate treatments that are quantifiable and tangible — like a prescription for pain-relieving medication — with improvement.
Nonetheless, the JAMA study found that exercise was the most likely treatment to make a difference to back pain. It’s not a permanent cure — they found that most people’s benefits tapered off after six months or so — but it’s a way to potentially provide some relief and at the same time improve your overall health. If you’re curious whether exercise could help relieve your back pain, the experienced staff at the new Sports Medicine Clinic at the Spine Institute Northwest can help. To learn more, call the Clinic at 253-313-1801.