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Readers weigh in on lower-back pain

Consumer Reports News: June 29, 2009 10:23 PM

Readers who have lower-back pain have written us a lot since the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center Survey results were released in April. We’ve heard from chiropractic fans and chiropractic detractors, readers who have problems with opioid medications and readers who use such narcotics without a problem.

Many writers remarked that our coverage had failed to mention treatments that worked well for them. There was a spinal decompression success story as well as a "compression shirt" success story. There were those who were helped by a therapy called the Feldenkrais Method® and those who swore by another called the Alexander Technique. There was a reader who touted the book "Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection," by John E. Sarno, M.D., and another who touted Esther Gokhale’s "8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back." There was even a reader who advised patience: "Mother Nature's treatment method was just as effective as that provided by the medical professionals, and she didn't charge a fee."

Letters also reminded us that our survey had neglected to ask about a variety of practitioners, including pain psychologists, physiatrists (physicians who specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation), pain management doctors, muscular therapists, and osteopaths.

In response to several compelling letters, we added a section on osteopathic medicine to our back-pain package. Osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) is another type of hands-on care, a category of treatment that respondents with lower-back pain ranked as very helpful in our survey. Osteopaths use OMT to complement conventional treatment by moving muscles and joints with techniques such as stretching, gentle pressure, and resistance. Indeed, one of our experts, James N. Weinstein, D.O. ,M.S, director of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, was trained as an osteopath.

The wide variety of lower-back pain treatment options is the reason we asked more than 14,000 respondents to tell us what worked for them, including medications, physical treatments, products, and lifestyle changes. But we recognize that there are many more and, as always, appreciate hearing from you.

Orly Avitzur, M.D., Consumer Reports medical adviser

Find out what type of lower-back pain you have, and see our Treatment Ratings for a comparison of 23 lower-back treatments, including spinal manipulation, massage, and drug therapies.


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