Common back pain therapies that probably don’t work

Jun 16, 2020 | Joey Keillor | @joeykeillor | Comments (15)

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A number of common back pain treatments and therapies are simply not supported — or only very modestly supported — by scientific evidence in terms of providing back pain relief. This includes some therapies that were more widely accepted a decade or more ago, but have since been shown to be lacking evidence of effectiveness. Examples include:

  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) — This is when electrodes are taped to your skin to deliver painless electrical current to parts of your back. It appears to provide no benefit for acute or chronic back pain.
  • Back braces or corsets — These do not help relieve or prevent acute low back pain. There may be some role in those with longer-term back pain, but they should be worn sparingly, and are best used by those who are actively trying to improve fitness and back health.
  • Many corticosteroid injections — Injections into disk space or a spine (facet) joint, injections for spinal stenosis or into trigger points may provide modest, short-term relief, but do not appear to be effective over the long-term.
  • Ultrasound therapy — This involves the use of sound waves to warm internal tissues. It has been used on the theory that it helps relax muscles, but most research has shown that it is not effective for back pain.
  • Opioid pain medication for chronic back pain — Simply put, non-opioid pain medications such as NSAIDs and select antidepressants appear to work just as well or better over the long term compared to opioids, and with fewer risks and side effects. As such, opioid pain drugs are rarely indicated for chronic back pain.

Connect with others on their experience with back pain at the Spine Health group.

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Thank you, Colleen.

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Yes, thank you Colleen for cleaning that mess.

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