Moving Beyond Pills: The Interdisciplinary Approach To Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is one of the most common reasons why people visit their doctor – NPR reports that 10% of visits to primary care physicians involve back pain. And with people spending more time sitting and less time exercising than ever, it seems likely that this problem isn't going away any time soon.

If you suffer from back pain, you should know that the most common treatments aren't necessarily the best ones. Being familiar with these treatments as well as clinical guidelines for back pain can help you make the best choice in treating your pain.

Problems With Treatment Through Medication

Many treatments for back pain have their own problems. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage pain, but constant use and high dosages can be taxing on the liver. Daily use also means that patients must avoid alcohol or risk further liver damage.

More powerful opioid painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl can be risky because patients develop tolerance to them over time, and they can also be addictive. And on the opposite side, some people with severe pain and no addiction issues can have difficulty getting opioid prescriptions because physicians worry about over-prescribing these types of pills.

Clinical Guidelines

Together, the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society published a set of clinical guidelines aimed at treating patients with lower back pain. Among other things, they recommend that lower back pain treatments begin not with MRIs and prescription painkillers, but instead with non-prescription medications, self-care at home, and non-drug treatments like exercise, yoga, stress therapy, massage, and rehabilitation.

Why Non-Pharmacological Treatments Are Recommended

Lower back pain stems from many different causes, both physical and psychological, and multiple causes are often present at the same time. For example, consider a patient who hurts their back lifting a heavy piece of furniture. Their back pain can lead to difficulty sleeping or awkward sleep position, causing further back pain. This poor sleep combined with their growing back pain can cause psychological stress, which feeds back into the pain and makes it even worse. Medication alone only treats the symptoms of pain; non-pharmacological treatments try to get at the root causes.

The Interdisciplinary Approach

A multifaceted approach to lower back pain is more likely to get at its varied causes. And when these techniques reduce pain among people who do require medication, they also allow lower doses of medication to be used.

Stress reduction is the main psychological approach, and this is accomplished through activities like yoga, massage, cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation training. To address the physical side, the muscles of the back are strengthened and made more flexible through exercise, yoga, and physical therapy. So if you have lower back pain, discuss the options for interdisciplinary treatment with your doctor at your next appointment.