Fast but finite: Complementary and alternative therapies

A review led by a scientist from the Institute for Work & Health investigated the effectiveness of alternative therapies for back and neck pain and found that the benefits are immediate, but not lasting.

Conventional medical therapies, such as prescriptions for exercise and medications, aren’t always successful for back and neck pain. Therefore, injured workers often turn to acupuncture, spinal manipulation, mobilization and massage looking for relief. But which of these complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies, as they are called, actually work? This was the focus of a systematic review led by Institute for Work & Health (IWH) Associate Scientist Dr. Andrea Furlan.

The review, released last October, looked at 270 studies. Most were randomized controlled trials. The key findings were:

  • CAMs were more effective in reducing pain compared to no treatment, physiotherapy or standard care in the short term.
  • Acupuncture for certain types of back pain was better than placebo, but only in the short term. For certain types of neck pain, it was better than no treatment immediately after the treatment.
  • Manipulation was better than placebo or no treatment for back and neck pain in the short term. It was also better than acupuncture.
  • Mobilization was better than no treatment, but no different than placebo, for certain types of back pain. For certain types of neck pain, it was better than placebo.
  • Massage was better than placebo or no treatment for certain types of back pain. It was significantly better than physiotherapy for back pain. For neck pain, it was better than no treatment, placebo or exercise.

Simply put: injured workers should try CAMs, but they shouldn’t expect long-term relief.

The full review is available at: www.ahrq.gov/clinic/tp/backcam2tp.htm#Reports

Source: At Work, Issue 67, Winter 2012: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto