Back Pain: The Truth Behind Controversial Solutions

To ease your aching back, Dr. Oz examines the 3 most controversial treatments to help you determine what’s safe and most effective.

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A whopping 80% of Americans will suffer a severe case of back pain in their lifetime. Many of the treatments available today are shrouded in controversy. To help demystify your options, Dr. Oz weighs in and offers what he deems to be the most effective solutions.

1. Back Surgery

Unresolved back pain sends more than 500,000 Americans into the OR for major surgery each year. Not only is back surgery one of the most expensive procedures, but critics also call the operation overly invasive, citing statistics that surgery may be a temporary fix at best and can also cause complications that involve nerve damage and even more pain.

In most cases, back surgery is NOT the best solution for back pain. In fact, time is often the best antidote since 90% of back pain heals within a few weeks.

When it comes to back pain, many doctors order tests immediately, but this can lead to unnecessary treatment since images can be misleading. For instance, a spine with a bulge can indicate sciatica (back pain and shooting leg pain), but it can also simply show natural degeneration of the spine, which does not actually cause pain. Physicians should abstain from ordering X-rays, MRI or CT scans for at least 6 weeks to see if the pain resolves on its own.


Finally, 1 in 5 people who undergo back surgery will need another operation within a decade. Of course, there are times when surgery is absolutely necessary, but it should not be your first course of action. Most acute back pain – especially garden-variety lower back pain – will go away on its own; the tincture of time is usually the best medicine.

Dr. Oz's #1 Back Pain Solution: Physical therapy is Dr. Oz’s first choice for addressing back pain.

Physical Therapy-Based  Exercises for Back Pain

To avoid back pain, you need to prevent muscle atrophy. Try these physical therapy-based stretching and strengthening exercises. Do them at least three times a week or even every day.

Pelvic Tilt: Lie on your back with hands at your sides. Using your elbows, raise your hips. This helps reduce stiffness and strengthens your stomach and gluteal muscles.

Side Knee: Remain lying on your back. Straighten your left leg out, then hook your right foot over the left knee and roll over. Then take your left hand and push it down on your right knee. This exercise helps open up your lower back muscles.

2. Steroid Injections
Steroid injections have become an increasingly popular option for treating lower back pain. Typically, they are injected into the epidural space between the vertebrae and protective covering of the spinal cord. While they can help temporarily reduce inflammation around the irritated nerve (which causes pain that radiates down the leg), steroid shots are overused and there is little evidence that they work for lower back pain. What’s more, there are serious risks associated with steroid injections – often due to damaging the dural sheath that protects the spine – including headaches, increased pain and, in severe cases, paralysis.

Noninvasive Solutions for Back Pain

Here are some noninvasive  solutions for back pain that are far less costly and have much lower risks of side effects:

Over-the-counter (OTC) Medications

Ibuprofen and Naxoproxen

These pain relievers work very well at addressing back pain. Take as directed.

Chondroitin and Glucosamine Supplement

This supplement can help improve fluidity in the spine and other joints to reduce friction and may help relieve pain associated with back pain due to osteoarthritis. It is available in a combined pill form from pharmacies and health stores.

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)

Oftentimes, we overlook that emotional health is essential to physical health. Pain is no less real because it is influenced by the mind. To help back pain caused by emotional distress or everyday tension, try the Emotional Freedom Technique, a form of psychological acupuncture. It combines tapping and positive affirmations to help release negative emotions.

  • First, tap along the top of your head down the center of your skull.
  • Then tap the top of your eyebrows, starting on the inside close to your nose.
  • Then tap along the outside of your eyes and then underneath your eyes. 
  • Now here’s the important part: While tapping, verbally acknowledge the problem and say this affirmation: Even though I have back pain, I accept myself.  

For an extended guided introduction to EFT, click here.

3. Chiropractors

While many folks in the medical community dismiss chiropractors as too alternative or ineffective, nearly 60% of people suffering from back pain claim they get badly needed relief from this kind of treatment.

Over time, chiropractic treatments for back pain may make a difference and are just as effective as pain medication. The difference, however, is that painkillers don’t eliminate the problem – they just cover up the symptoms, whereas, spinal realignment, which forms the foundation of chiropractic care, can get to the root cause and fix an irritated nerve.

Many people worry that if they see a chiropractor once they’ll have to go back forever. However, there are many kinds of chiropractic care, and some cases can be treated in as little as 1-2 sessions. Often, the first phase of chiropractic care is to get you out of pain, while the second phase is to correct the problem, such as learning exercises.

Final Tips for Avoiding Back Pain

  • To keep your back pain at bay, be sure to stay hydrated.
  • When sitting for long periods of time, make sure to get up frequently and walk around.
  • Sleep on firm mattress and bolster a pillow under your knees to take the pressure off the lumbar spine. If you’re a side sleeper, place a small pillow between your knees; the space helps take pressure off the SI joint that lies at the junction of the lower spine and pelvis and often causes lower back pain.