How can you beat a bad back?
Acupuncture. Sitting up straight. A hard mattress. Everyone's got a pet cure for back pain. But what works - and what just makes it worse? The answers will surprise you...
Back pain is the scourge of our increasingly sedentary society. According to charity BackCare, over one third of the population (more than 17 million of us) have suffered back problems in the past year.
The general advice is to stay active and take over-the-counter painkillers, if necessary. Usually this is enough to help you through the worst. However, for many, the pain lingers, and they are driven to try all sorts of remedies. But recently concern was raised that some are not just useless, they are dangerous.
So what does work, and what is a waste of money? Here's some suggestions:
EVIDENCE: There is plenty of strong evidence that acupuncture is good for lower back pain.
A recent study in the British Medical Journal found it offered a small but significant benefit to back pain sufferers and is cost effective in the long term.
Researchers at the University of Sheffield measured the pain levels of two groups of adults over two years. They found that those who had acupuncture were significantly more likely to be satisfied compared to those having conventional NHS care.
HOW IT WORKS: It is based on the premise that back pain can be alleviated by unblocking the body's natural channels for energy (called Qi).
The practitioner inserts fine needles into some of the 500-plus acupuncture points around the body, which clears the channels and stimulates an internal healing response.
EVIDENCE: Research from the physiotherapy department at Queensland University showed Pilates to be helpful in reducing back pain.
"Over time, Pilates helps to create a solid cylinder of muscle around the central spine, preventing damaging forces being applied to the vertebrae, ligaments and discs," says Claire Small, of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.
However, Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics and chair of the kinesiology department at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, has recently questioned the benefits of Pilates. He suggests that the deep abdominal muscles it targets do not play a pivotal role in supporting the back.
His studies show Pilates is particularly ineffective if performed with poor technique.
HOW IT WORKS: Exercise purpotedly strengthen deeply embedded stabilizing muscles that support the spine. Special exercises develop the tranverse abdominus, a muscle which wraps around the trunk horizontally, like a corset; the multifidus muscle in the lower back; and the pelvic floor - all of which are important for controlling the lumbar spine.
"Pilates shouldn't be a first form of treatment, but can definitely help relieve chronic back problems," says Small.
View the full list after the jump.
Tags: Bad Back | Pain