Back pain is one of Americans’ leading debilitating complaints, prompting us to spend billions of dollars annually for relief and costing more than $100 billion, especially in lost work and wages. But an influential physicians’ group, joining a growing number of other experts, now recommends that we buck up, exercise, keep moving—and stay away from a reflexive reach for drugs, especially powerful painkillers, to deal with aching backs.
The American College of Physicians, with guidelines published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, concedes it is breaking with longstanding medical views on treating low back pain. But the group’s experts said they conducted a “systematic review of randomized, controlled trials and systematic reviews published through April 2015 on noninvasive pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic treatments for low back pain.”
They found that many patients with low back pain recovered over time “regardless of treatment,” and these individuals might benefit most from heat, rest, exercise, and over the counter, non-steroidal medications. Another group of back pain sufferers might need physical therapy, stress reduction, acupuncture, yoga, or ta-chi. Only after patients have not found relief with “non-pharmacological therapy,” should doctors consider giving non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen. If these don’t work, tramadol (Cymbalta) or duloxetine (Ultram) might be considered.