SAN ANTONIO – Back pain is one of the most common reasons people see a doctor. Now, a Consumer Reports survey finds non-drug therapies are as helpful or more helpful for back pain sufferers than prescription drugs.
For Thomas Sells, a typical week may include acupuncture, yoga, Tai Chi and a couple hours with a massage therapist. These are treatments for his severe back pain.
"I think over the years, the pain began to exacerbate before I began to do anything about it," Sells said.
Several years ago, his pain got so bad he could barley walk. He searched for treatments but was worried about the risks of taking opioid painkillers, and he did not want surgery.
That's when he turned to his VA center.
"When I learned there were alternatives, I was very willing to try them. There were positive results," he said.
Consumer Reports surveyed more than 3,500 back pain sufferers and found more than 80 percent of those who had tried yoga or Tai Chi or saw a massage therapist or chiropractor said it helped them.
"Traditionally, these non-drug therapies had been considered alternative or complementary to mainstream medicine. But, the truth is, we're seeing from the evidence that they work just as well if not better," said Consumer Reports' Teresa Carr.
The survey also found that insurance companies are far more likely to cover prescription drugs and doctor visits than non-drug treatments like yoga.
Insurers may be more likely to cover non-drug therapies if you first get a referral from your doctor.
For back pain lasting less than three months, the American College of Physicians recommends first trying non-drug measures including heat, acupuncture, massage, and spinal manipulation before resorting to medications.
Consumer Reports says that yoga and tai chi are fine for shorter-term pain if you are familiar with the moves, but you shouldn't start a new program until the pain has receded enough for you to walk and move around reasonably comfortably.