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Back Pain: Prevention and Conservative Treatment

Back pain is a fact of life for many people. Research shows that up to 80% of the population will experience back pain at some point during their lives. It is also one of the most common reasons for visits to the doctor’s office.

Sometimes back pain is sharp and intense, caused by a wrong movement or an injury, and heals in a few days or weeks. Others experience back pain as a chronic condition, seriously altering their ability to work and enjoy time with family, friends and other leisure activities—leading in some cases to depression.

A global survey of health conditions identified back pain as the single most disabling condition worldwide.2 Moreover, as lifestyles have become more sedentary and the rate of obesity has risen, back pain has become increasingly prevalent, even among children.

Spinal health is an important factor in preventing back pain as well as maintaining overall health and well-being. The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) encourages people to take steps to improve their spinal health and avoid injury. Things such as better nutrition, exercise, ergonomic workspaces and proper lifting and movement techniques can go a long way in helping people to strengthen their spines and potentially avoid serious injury and chronic pain.

A Closer Look at Back Pain

The back is a complicated structure of bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles. You can sprain ligaments, strain muscles, rupture disks and irritate joints—all of which can lead to back pain. While sports injuries or accidents can cause back pain, sometimes the simplest of movements (such as picking up a pencil from the floor) can have painful results. In addition, arthritis, poor posture and lack of movement, obesity and psychological stress can cause or complicate back pain.

While most cases of back pain are mechanical or nonorganic (not caused by serious conditions such as inflammatory arthritis, infection, fracture or cancer), it can also directly result from diseases of the internal organs such as kidney stones, kidney infections, blood clots or bone loss.

Support for Conservative Care

Treatment for back pain has come a long way. It was once believed that taking pain medication and getting some rest and relaxation were the best course of action for a bout of low back pain, but nowadays research and guidelines3 support first trying drug-free conservative options for pain management while remaining as active as possible during recuperation.

The epidemic of prescription opioid overuse, as well as research showing that even common over-the-counter pain relievers have limited effectiveness in relieving back pain4, has led several respected healthcare groups to recognize the value of a conservative approach to common conditions such as back pain.

Notably, the American College of Physicians (ACP), the largest medical specialty society in the world, updated its back pain treatment guideline in 2017 to support a conservative approach to care.3 Likewise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidelines for prescribing opioids in 2016 that promote the use of nonopioid and nondrug alternatives first for the treatment of chronic pain.5 The Joint Commission, which accredits every major U.S. hospital, also recognizes the value of non-drug approaches to pain management by including chiropractic and acupuncture in its pain management standard.6

Beyond the risks of overuse and addiction, prescription medications that numb pain may also convince a patient that a musculoskeletal condition such as back pain is less severe than it is or that it has healed. That misunderstanding can lead to overexertion and a delay in the healing process, or even to permanent injury.

Conservative Care Costs Less

With high costs associated with prescription drugs, chiropractic’s conservative approach makes economic sense as well. One study found that spinal manipulation for neck and back pain was cost-effective when used either alone or combined with other therapies first.7 Another study, based on data from Washington state workers, found that 42.7 percent of people who visited a surgeon first for work-related back pain eventually had surgery, compared with only 1.5 percent of those who visited a chiropractor first.8

For more information on prevention and wellness, or to find a doctor of chiropractic near you, visit

Reviewed by the ACA Editorial Advisory Board. The information in this post is for educational purposes. It is not a replacement for treatment or consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have specific questions, contact your doctor of chiropractic. Credits: