Rethinking Back Pain Treatments

Young Woman with Back Pain Issues

Before you have your back pain treated, take a moment to read over the options available and issues that may arise.


Recent studies are challenging traditional attitudes about treating back pain.

For many years, the typical treatment for sciatica was bed rest—and lots of it. But new research from Maastricht University in Maastricht, the Netherlands, is debunking that long-held notion, finding that immobility does little to improve the back pain associated with the condition.

Symptoms of sciatica include searing, shooting pain that travels down the back of the leg, which is frequently accompanied by back pain. For decades, the medical community’s conventional wisdom was to have patients take to their bed, believing inactivity would enable to sciatica to heal. But the Dutch research team found little data to support that belief.

The researchers followed the 12-week results of 183 patients diagnosed with sciatica. Half were prescribed bed rest for two weeks, while the other half were instructed to go about the usual daily routines but avoid straining the back or doing any activity that would provoke pain, which the researchers called watchful waiting.

The Dutch team found that most of the patients with sciatica improved with watchful waiting but more notably also found that two-weeks of bed rest was not any more effective. When comparing the data, 87 percent of patients in each group reported symptom improvement three months after their initial diagnosis.

Based on their observations and the assessments provided by patients regarding the intensity of pain, how bothersome the symptoms were in going about a normal routine, and functional status there were no significant differences between the two groups, meaning there was no reason for people to stop their lives for two weeks trying to alleviate sciatica. In addition, rates for surgery linked to sciatic symptoms and work absenteeism were also the same between the two groups.

In another study on back pain, researchers concluded that exercise is underutilized as an effective remedy for chronic low back pain. In a study conducted at the University of North Carolina, researchers discovered that there is a lack of knowledge about prescribing exercise for pain based on a survey of nearly 700 people with chronic back or neck pain who had visited a doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist during the previous 12 months.

The survey results showed that less than 50 percent of the participants had been prescribed exercise but individuals who had visited a physical therapist were the most likely to have had physical activity recommended to them, including stretching and strength exercises. Similarly, physical therapists were also more likely to supervise their client’s activity.

The authors of the study believe exercise is one of the few moderately effective therapies for chronic back and neck pain. So if you are one of the millions of Americans who suffer from back pain, ask your chiropractor about developing an exercise program.

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