Medically reviewed by Scott Gray, DPT, specialty in physical therapy, on April 9, 2020 – Written by Amanda Eisman
When you’ve suffered from chronic back pain, it may seem that surgery is the only remaining option. Too many doctors are prescribing pills and surgery to soothe the symptoms rather than non-invasive treatments to cure the cause.
Back pain surgery is necessary in some cases, but usually preventable in patients experiencing chronic back pain.
Approximately 20-40% of back surgeries for chronic back pain fail, according to a recent study. Failed back surgery leaves patients feeling the same or worse. This can permanently lower a patient’s quality of life.
Before you choose the most invasive option to treat your chronic back pain, ask yourself: “Have I tried everything possible to avoid the riskiest approach?”
We’ve created a list of the five best ways to treat chronic back pain without surgery. Surgery should remain out-of-the question until you’ve consistently practiced the treatment options below.
Ways to treat chronic back pain without surgery
#1: Physical Therapy
If you haven’t tried physical therapy for lower back pain, we recommend this as your first course of action.
A physical therapist is a healthcare professional who specializes in movement and physical conditions such as chronic pain. Their primary goal is to find and treat the cause of your pain so that the patient is finally freed from pain.
A physical therapist who specializes in back conditions will identify the cause of your pain and prescribe you with the most effective and least invasive treatments, such as stretching, strengthening, and heat/cold therapy.
Some of the top back pain physical therapists also provide manual therapy (such as spinal manipulation) to readjust your spine.
#2: Manual Therapy
Manual therapy is highly recommended by health professionals as an alternative to surgery. A practitioner of manual therapy will use his or her hands (or a specialized tool) to mobilize the joints, break up tight muscle tissue, and promote circulation – all of which can help patients feel immediate and long-term relief from chronic back pain.
Seeing a manual therapist regularly may ease chronic back pain – especially if combined with stretching and strengthening exercises.
A physical therapist who offers manual therapy is a better choice than a chiropractor. This is because a physical therapist takes a less aggressive approach and provides the patient with supplemental exercises.
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Most cases of chronic back pain are due to sedentary lifestyles. Health professionals recommend moving your body at least every thirty minutes. This means walking, marching in place, stretching, or anything to prevent stiffness from building up in your muscles.
A recent study of 96 patients waiting on back pain surgery revealed that 83% of the patients did not follow the World Health Organization’s guideline for exercise. Considering that inactivity is a leading cause of chronic back pain, imagine how many patients would avoid (or even cancel) surgery if they simply met the standard recommendations for exercise!
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Don’t let your pain prevent you from moving. Consult a physical therapist if you’re having trouble finding exercises that won’t aggravate your pain.
#4: Shedding the Extra Pounds
It’s no secret that excess weight places a burden on your back. Many people can’t believe how much their weight impacted their chronic pain after they lose the extra pounds.
Chances are, you’ve developed some bad lifestyle habits if you’re overweight. Quitting unhealthy habits such as smoking, sitting for hours at a time, and eating too much junk food can make a dramatic difference in reducing your pain and improving your overall sense of well-being.
There are plenty of resources available (many for free) to help you lose weight.
Feeling a lack of motivation to shed the pounds? Join a fitness club, see a personal trainer (or weight-loss professional), or practice a new sport – all of which deter you from slacking off.
#5: Medication and Injections
While we don’t encourage the use of medication and injections as a first-line treatment for chronic back pain, they can help those who are suffering from severe pain to feel better if combined with exercise, healthy diet, and back-specific strengthening and stretching routines.
Unfortunately, too many people rely on medication as a treatment. Medication and injections do not actually fix the cause of the chronic pain, so you may find that the pain returns every time you stop the medication.
Long term use of steroids and pain-relieving medications is infamous for side effects. Save them for when your pain is hard to tolerate. Try our first four recommendations before (and while) receiving medications or injections. More than likely, your pain will keep pestering you if you do not maintain an exercise routine and healthy diet.
We Know It’s Frustrating…
We understand that pain experienced longer than twelve weeks can lead to serious frustration. This frustration can further aggravate the pain by increasing muscle tension. We hope that you feel more at ease knowing that most cases of chronic back pain are treatable without surgery.
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Even with a successful surgery, pain can return if the underlying cause (such as weak muscles) was never treated. Our first four ways to treat chronic back pain targets the underlying cause of your pain. Targeting the cause is the best way to eliminate chronic pain for good. Our fifth recommendation should only coincide with the other recommendations, and only if the pain is severe.