Try Massage or Yoga Before Pills for Back Pain, Physicians Say

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New guidelines from the American College of Physicians (ACP) recommend trying exercise, yoga, or massage before medication for acute low-back pain. The guidelines were published online on February 13 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

NPR reports that researchers analyzed more than 150 studies looking at what works and what doesn’t when it comes to low-back pain.

ACP president Dr. Nitin Damle says “garden variety back pain”—not the kind of pain that radiates down your leg or causes numbness—usually goes away on its own. “The body will adjust, the inflammation will go down,” Damle says. It may take a few days or even a week, but eventually you’ll be back to normal.

So why risk side effects of medication, he says, if you don’t have to? Side effects can include gastritis, stomach upset and a rise in blood pressure.

Instead, the new guidelines suggest techniques to speed up the healing process, including heat wraps, massage, acupuncture and spinal manipulation which can “relax the muscles, joints, and tendons so people can be relieved of their low back pain sooner, rather than later.”

Primary care doctor Steven Atlas, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who practices at Massachusetts General Hospital, describes the guidelines as a needed change. “We are moving away from simple fixes like a pill to a more complex view that involves a lot of lifestyle changes,” he says.

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