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Additional Treatment for Low Back Pain

When back pain does not respond to more conventional approaches, patients may consider trying other options.

Acupuncture involves the insertion of needles the width of a human hair along precise points throughout the body. Practitioners believe this process triggers the release of naturally occurring painkilling molecules called peptides and keeps the body’s normal flow of energy unblocked.

Biofeedback is used to treat many acute pain problems, most notably back pain and headache. Using a special electronic machine, the patient is trained to become aware of, to follow, and to gain control over certain bodily functions, including muscle tension, heart rate, and skin temperature (by controlling local blood flow patterns). The patient can then learn to effect a change in his or her response to pain, for example, by using relaxation techniques. Biofeedback is often used in combination with other treatment methods.

Interventional therapy can ease chronic pain by blocking nerve conduction between specific areas of the body and the brain. Approaches range from injections of local anesthetics, steroids, or narcotics into affected soft tissues, joints, or nerve roots to more complex nerve blocks and spinal cord stimulation. When extreme pain is involved, low doses of drugs may be administered by catheter directly into the spinal cord.

Traction involves the use of weights to apply constant or intermittent force to gradually “pull” the skeletal structure into better alignment. Traction is not recommended for treating acute low back pain.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is administered by a battery-powered device that sends mild electric pulses along nerve fibers to block pain signals to the brain. Small electrodes places on the skin at or near the site of pain generate nerve impulses that block incoming pain signals from the peripheral nerves. TENS may also help stimulate the brain’s production of endorphins (chemicals that have pain-relieving properties).

Ultrasound is a noninvasive therapy used to warm the body’s internal tissues, which causes muscles to relax. Sound waves pass through the skin and into the injured muscles and other soft tissues.

In the most serious cases, when the condition does not respond to other therapies, surgery may relieve pain caused by back problems or serious musculoskeletal injuries.