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A Comprehensive Guide to Treating Lower Back Pain Without Drugs and Surgery

0069836001563462665.jpgTreating Lower Back Pain with Conventional Methods Doesn’t Work

The science is out, a review of 80 and counting studies shows that conventional back treatment does not work. Low back pain is the second most common cause of disability in the US, but the most commonly prescribed treatments of spine surgery, opioid painkillers, and steroid injections are finding to not only be unhelpful but harmful in some cases. “No one dies of low back pain,” says pain expert Sidney Rubinstein, “but people are now dying from the treatment.”

Back problems cost America an estimated $90 billion a year. Yet there is a large gap between what evidence suggests helps people, like exercise programs and chiropractic, and what’s covered by health insurance providers. New evidence is increasingly supporting exercise and alternative therapies like chiropractic. What this means for you is if someone you love has chronic back trouble then alternatives may help you manage your symptoms better than what most physicians prescribe, which are treatments pushing people towards intrusive, addictive, and expensive interventions that often fail or even harm them.

Treating Lower Back Pain with Opioids Doesn’t Work

Let’s look at opioid use. As of 2016, 14,500 Americans died from opioid-related deaths. In one sobering headline those in the Appalachia region who were diagnosed with breast cancer were more likely to die from opioid abuse, not their breast cancer. Opioid prescriptions are common among those with back pain, with almost 20 percent receiving long-term opioid prescriptions. The head-scratching part is these opioids were prescribed before and research was done as to whether or not that helped the back pain. In a newly published randomized controlled trial that was the first to compare NSAIDS to opioid medications for chronic back pain and arthritis found that, after a year, opioid users were actually in slightly more pain compared to the non-opioid group.

Treating Lower Back Pain with Surgery Doesn’t Work

Additionally, those who elected to have surgery receiving spinal fusion versus those that didn’t have surgery found no meaningful clinical difference between the two outcomes. Steroid injections, another popular treatment, had the same lackluster results. Steroids were found to improve pain slightly in the short term, but the effects dissipate within a few months and don’t improve the long-term health outcomes.

Historically, the medical community has thought back pain could be explained by an anatomical issue. But research is now showing that is not always the case. If you looked at two identical MRI results showing the same back injury with bulging discs, stenosis, and facet arthritis there is no indication on the MRI that will show which patient suffers from chronic pain while the other patient is pain free. This is why I often discourage patients from getting imaging studies because it often scares patients into surgeries when their issue would resolve with time and a little chiropractic work.

We Successfully Treat Disc Problems without Surgery or Meds

At Santa Cruz NonForce Chiropractors, we successfully treat disc bulges in the neck and lower back every day. In fact, we have a very high success rate of treating disc problems without surgery. Our office is the place to start if you’re looking for an effective, non-invasive treatment.

Moving is the most important thing you can do for back pain

This may sound counter-intuitive when you first instinct is to avoid physical activity but now studies comparing exercise to no exercise for chronic low back pain are consistently clear: Physical activity can help relieve pain, which being inactive can delay a person’s recovery.

Exercise is helpful for a number of reasons. Exercise can:

  • Increase muscle strength to support the spine;
  • Improve flexibility and range of motion in the back, which can help people’s functional movement and get them back to normal living;
  • Boost blood flow to the soft tissues in the back, which promotes healing and reduces stiffness.

A 2016 review of the research found improvement with chronic low back pain with all types of exercise too. Whether aerobic, flexibility or core stabilization it all seemed to improve it. This wouldn’t necessarily be recommended for those acute episodes of back pain but more for the ones chronic in nature.

Recommended Exercises for Treating Lower Back Pain


Image from Vox Media.

Three exercises that spine biomechanist Stuart McGill recommends to help stabilize their spines by doing the following (these are called the McGill Big 3):


Bird Dog

The Side Bridge or Side Plank

These exercises are intended to be done daily to strengthen the muscles around your spine.

You can find demonstrations of these exercises on Youtube here and here.

At Santa Cruz NonForce Chiropractors, we recommend the McKenzie exercises for acute conditions or for those of us with desk jobs.

I hope this article helps you be more informed about alternative ways to treat your lower back!


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