The Many Options for Treating Chronic Back Pain – Choose Wisely

Some sixty-five million Americans report a recent experience with back pain at any given point in time. As many as 8% of all adults in this country live with persistent back pain. In some cases, the pain is severe enough to impact normal functioning. The good news is that there are many options for treating back pain. The bad news is that finding the right one is easier said than done.

Treatment for back pain can be divided into three categories:

  • Conventional therapies.
  • Complementary therapies.
  • Alternative therapies.

A primary care physician or GP is likely to stick with conventional therapy only. Pain medicine doctors are usually willing to look at complementary therapies as well. But when it comes to alternative therapies, finding medical providers willing to recommend them can be a challenge.

Conventional Therapies Are Just What You Expect

Conventional therapies are just what you would expect them to be. They include things like over-the-counter medications, prescription NSAIDs, and opioid painkillers. In addition to medications, conventional therapies also include:

  • Physical therapy (improve strength and flexibility).
  • Steroid injections (limit inflammation).
  • Surgical procedures (e.g., spinal fusion and disc replacement).

Each of these conventional therapies works for some patients. But not every therapy works for every patient. In fact, some chronic back pain patients try every conventional treatment and still find no relief.

Complementary Therapies to Enhance

When doctors recommend complementary therapies, they are usually intended to enhance conventional treatments. Three good examples are acupuncture, massage therapy, and chiropractic. The key to complementary therapies is that they are not meant to replace conventional treatments entirely.

A chronic pain patient might rely on a combination of prescription medications and regular chiropractic visits to manage her symptoms. Another patient seeing the same doctor might be offered a combination of physical therapy and acupuncture. Each case is different. Therapy choices are up to doctors and patients to work out together.

Alternative Therapies as Replacements

Finally, alternative therapies are meant to function as replacements for conventional and complementary treatments. It is in the name. Instead of continuing with prescription painkillers, for example, a patient might elect to apply for a state Medical Card that offers access to plant-based medicines.

At KindlyMD in Utah, they see plenty of chronic pain patients having chosen to do just that. Many of their patients have tried conventional and complementary treatments but found very little relief. They turn to the state’s Med Card program in hopes of finding some relief with plant-based therapies.

Despite the name, alternative treatments do not have to be used separately from other treatments in either the conventional or complementary categories. A doctor could recommend both plant-based medicine and physical therapy to treat chronic back pain. In such a case, plant-based medicine replaces prescription painkillers.

One Way Doesn’t Exist

All three treatment categories are necessary because there isn’t a single way to treat chronic back pain. Quite to the contrary, the nature of back pain is such that doctors and their patients often need to try many different treatment options to find something that works. And don’t forget the unfortunate patient who can’t find adequate relief no matter what he tries.

If there is any good news about chronic back pain, it is the fact that so many treatment options are out there. Of all three categories, a pain medicine specialist should be able to find something for just about everyone. The big question is how much relief the most adequate treatment will actually offer. Needless to say, chronic back pain is one of the hardest conditions to effectively treat.

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