Chiropractic outperformed all other treatments, and prescription medication rated about the same as deep-tissue massage, yoga, or Pilates. Over-the-counter medication was less helpful than hands-on therapies but performed about the same as progressive relaxation and meditation. (See the results for neck-pain.)
Most back pain clears up on its own within a month or two. Staying active may curb pain and speed recovery. Acupuncture, chiropractic, and yoga are possibly effective for low-back pain. There might be some benefit to acupressure or meditation, but research is preliminary. A recent expert assessment found that spinal manipulation, exercise, standard medical care, and physical therapy appear to be equally helpful for low-back pain.
See a doctor if you have back pain with fever, numbness, weakness, a change in bowel or bladder function, leg-muscle atrophy, a history of cancer, or pain associated with a recent trauma.
The charts accompanying this report are based on responses to the 2010 Annual Questionnaire conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. The green bars represent the proportion of readers using a treatment for a condition who said it “helped a lot.” Unless otherwise noted, the analysis of research findings came from the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, an independent research group, based on the scientific evidence that was current as of June 2011.