Staying active: Your guide to natural therapies

Here is our user guide to natural therapies and exercise to help you stay mobile if you have back issues or niggly aches and pains you’d like to address.

Clinical Pilates
Clinical Pilates is a really great way to integrate both mobility and core stability, says physiotherapist, Pete Magner.  Although applying the same principles as regular Pilates, clinical Pilates sessions are facilitated by a qualified health professional such as a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath, and is tailored to address a specific injury or problem. Individual sessions are most common, however some clinics will offer group sessions, incorporating a combination of equipment-based and floor exercises. The price will depend on the length of the session and the individual clinic, but the cost is covered by many private health funds. Clinical Pilates is effective in both the prevention and treatment of back pain.

Physiotherapists assess the way you move and then develop a specific rehabilitation and exercise program for you. Physiotherapist, Holly Brasher, says, “Certain postural muscles ‘switch off’ with each episode of back pain, meaning the body’s ability to support itself when moving is reduced. By teaching the body how to use these muscles again, the spine becomes more supported and pain will often reduce.”

An osteopath may look at the whole body, how problems in one area may affect the other, and then use a hands-on technique to initiate changes. This is combined with advice regarding strengthening or mobility based exercises. “You may see positive change within two to three treatments, in which case the osteopath might slowly space out the treatment,” says osteopath, Chris Reeves. The aim is to get patients to a point where they are able to self-manage their condition and live relatively pain free, he says.

Chiropractors focus on adjustments and manipulations of the spine to help restore back health. Chiropractors believe the skeleton and muscles are interlinked and should be treated as a whole. This is known as the kinematic chain, where pain in one area of the body, such as the lower back, may affect the alignment in another area, such as your upper back, which may have a flow on effect resulting in neck pain or headaches. Chiropractors will use a range of methods to apply adjustments, including hand pressure and the use of specialised instruments. 

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine whereby fine needles are inserted into the skin to encourage the body to heal itself. There is evidence that acupuncture is beneficial for back pain. However, overall, the scientific evidence has been mixed. A recent systematic review of studies on acupuncture and back pain found that, for some people, acupuncture is beneficial in the short-term relief of chronic low back pain only. 

Remedial massage
While there’s no evidence to suggest remedial massage provides long-term benefits for back pain, it may provide temporary relief in some people. “It feels good but has no enduring effect,” says  says Professor Chris Maher, a back pain expert from The George Institute. “If someone has a sore back and wanted some relief there’s nothing wrong with that, but it won’t achieve anything in the long-term, and that’s what you really want.” 

* Always speak to your relevant health professional before taking on any new exercise regimen or about any natural therapy you may be using in conjunction with other medication or programs. 

Do you suffer from back pain? What kinds of natural therapies and exercises have you tried, and have they worked?