The Cure for Back Pain is Active Physical Therapy — Not Drugs

The most common treatment for back pain causes more problems than it solves — pain medications (opiates).

Opiates have been widely used for back injuries created on the job for decades. But research is finding that the outcomes are grim. What’s more, a growing number of patients want alternatives to pain drugs and their notoriously bad side effects, like depression, sleep loss, liver problems, hormone loss, severe constipation, and addiction.

According to the American Academy of Neurology:

“The risks of powerful narcotic painkillers outweigh their benefits for treating chronic headaches, low back pain, and fibromyalgia. The drugs can cause serious side effects, overdose, addiction, and death. Research shows that 50 percent of patients who took opiates for at least three months are still on them five years later.”


Most physicians would agree that for most people with chronic pain, drugs aren’t even usually the right treatment. According to a study on the treatment of opiates dependence and chronic pain, the National Institute on Drug Abuse stated:

“There’s a false assumption that giving medicine makes pain go away, but in chronic situations that doesn’t always work. Many people only get some reduction in pain.”

As a result of the growing attention on pain medications’ bad side effects, more pain sufferers are weighing the pros and cons before they take any prescription medicine — or even any over-the-counter pain medicine. They are becoming savvy about not only the dependency and addiction risks, but also the entire spectrum of negative side effects of opiates on their lifestyles.

Even the cost of the drugs is cause for concern. Pain medication prices have gone up dramatically over the past decade. Plus, many insurance companies will not cover the costs of the more expensive drugs. So patients taking them must bear the significant out-of-pocket expenses.

Activity is The Ideal Prescription for Back Pain

Almost 95 percent of back injuries caused on the job are muscular injuries. And muscle injuries are ideally treated with a regime of passive and active physical therapy that includes heat, ice, ultrasound, massage, and movement within a safe range.  Some studies even show that high intensity resistance exercises safely and effectively treats back pain.

In the past, patients suffering from back pain would stop moving, believing that remaining immobile would heal the injury. But actually staying immobile gradually reduces mobility because it stiffens the muscles. Stiff muscles create more pain, which further exacerbates the problem. Whereas, becoming active again within a safe range of movement, and using the body in the way it was created to be used, helps to reduce pain and restore full mobility faster.  Immobilization also causes depreciation of cartilage, bone and muscle.  There is no better way to make back pain worse than by being immobile.

It’s not all the patient’s fault either. Pain doctors, orthopedic surgeons and spine doctors have recommended and supported this approach for decades, including keeping patients from returning to work for extended periods. In fact, they were afraid to send patients back to work too soon and risk hurting them even more.

Movement and Activity Actually Help Relieve Back Pain

We’ve learned that movement and returning to work as soon as possible are two of the best approaches to treating any muscular pain. Studies and real-world examples have shown that being active and engaged in the world contributes to a better outcome overall.

This is a paradigm shift in treating worker’s compensation cases. We’ve learned the old ways didn’t work and, most importantly, didn’t help the patients. In fact, the medical industry failed patients who were in pain with this outdated modality of narcotics, inactivity and work-avoidance.

Today the ideal prescription for treating back pain is early-stage hands-on therapy, such as ultrasound, massage, heat, and ice, along with movement within safe ranges, stretching, and returning to work as soon as possible.  It is very important that therapy include active motion, otherwise it is almost guaranteed to fail.

Our clinic provides that type of treatment for back pain that actually relieves pain faster— and helps patients move on with their lives sooner.  Our clinic provides state of the art and evidence-based care of the spine and related pain.  This allows people to get back to normal life quicker and with far fewer side effect from treatment.

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