One of my readers emailed a couple of interesting pieces of information I thought I’d share with you today. First of all, he sent a clip from the old TV sitcom Frasier that touches on the topic of massage chairs…rather humorously, I might add. Here is a link to the YouTube clip for your viewing pleasure…
Secondly, he mentioned new guidelines from the American College of Physicians that suggest that massage or yoga should be tried before any meds for acute low back pain. Of course, as a chiropractor, I couldn’t agree more while at the same time adding that chiropractic adjustments/manipulations could benefit low back pain sufferers as well. The bottom line is that there are conservative treatment options besides drugs and surgery that will do quite well at alleviating low back pain.
But, why stop there? I have seen these massage chairs (and other conservative treatment regimens) help folks with aches and pains all over the spinal regions, i.e. upper back, middle back, lower back, buttocks, and neck.
Getting back to the new guidelines, these were developed by researchers who analyzed 150+ studies related to what works and what doesn’t work for acute low back pain. The pain they addressed with these guidelines is the localized low back pain, not sciatica where the pain and/or numbness runs down the leg, or pain secondary to an accident or some other trauma. They called it the “garden variety back pain you might get after shoveling a little too much or over-exercising”.
The purpose of the conservative guidelines is to expedite the healing. Most acute low back pain will go away on it’s own over time, but the following therapies can speed it along:
- Heat wraps
- Mind-Body Therapies, like Yoga, Tai Chi, relaxation and stress reduction techniques
- Spinal manipulation
These therapies can loosen up the joints and muscles and even relax tight muscles.
The guideline paper also suggested that Acetominophen does not reduce pain or inflammation and is, thus, no longer recommended for back pain. Studies have shown, however, that nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), like ibuprofen and naproxen, will help with chronic back pain if the conservative approach is not working.
Muscle relaxants can serve a purpose in some cases and, beyond that, if pain persists the next option could include medications for nerve pain or narcotics for pain (only in rare circumstances – we know the danger of that!).
To quote Dr. Steven Atlas, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who practices at Massachusetts General Hospital, “we are moving away from simple fixes like a pill to a more complex view that involves a lot of lifestyle changes.” In a society that embraces quick fixes, this is a major shift in thinking that could prove quite difficult to see fully embraced because of the effort that would be involved.
Maybe, just maybe, massage chairs will come to play a bigger role in home therapy for the treatment of not only back pain, but neck pain, headaches, some forms of sciatica, and extremity pain.
Dr. Alan Weidner
P.S. Give us a “Like”, “Share”, or “+1” and leave me a comment or question below to share what you learned or ask any questions, so other folks can benefit from this material.
*The guidelines are published in the February 13, 2017 online issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.