Skip to main content

9 Things To Know About Chronic Low-Back Pain and Complementary Health Approaches

Low-back pain is a very common problem in the United States and around the world. About 80 percent of adults have low-back pain at some point in their lives. Most episodes last only a short period of time, but some persist. If low-back pain lasts for 12 weeks or longer, it’s called chronic.

Here’s what the science says about chronic low-back pain and several complementary health approaches.

  1. Spinal manipulation may lead to small improvements in both pain and function in people with chronic low-back pain. Function means how low-back pain affects activities such as walking, standing, sleeping, and doing household tasks.

  2. Studies have shown that acupuncture is more effective than either no treatment or sham (fake) acupuncture for back or neck pain.

  3. Mindfulness-based stress reduction is associated with a small improvement in chronic low-back pain.

  4. Tai chi, alone or in addition to physical therapy, may decrease the intensity of pain and improve function in people with low-back pain.

  5. Studies of yoga have found it to be helpful for low-back pain. Its effects are similar to those of other types of exercise.

  6. There’s evidence that progressive muscle relaxation can lead to moderate improvements in low-back pain and back function. 

  7. Biofeedback may moderately improve low-back pain.

  8. A clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians (the professional organization for doctors who practice internal medicine) encourages the use of nondrug approaches as initial treatment for chronic low-back pain. The options they suggest include all the complementary approaches mentioned above, as well as conventional methods such as exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy.

  9. Talk with your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you’re using or considering for chronic pain. Together, you can make shared, well-informed decisions.