Complementary and alternative therapies for low back pain

Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2005 Aug;19(4):639-54. doi: 10.1016/j.berh.2005.03.006.


The support for the principles of evidence-based medicine has increased within the field of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). The objective of this chapter is to determine the effectiveness of CAM therapies compared to placebo, no intervention, or other interventions for acute/subacute and chronic non-specific low back pain (LBP). Results from Cochrane reviews on acupuncture, botanical medicine, massage, neuroreflexotherapy, and spinal manipulation have been used. The results showed that acupuncture is more effective than no treatment or sham treatment for chronic LBP but that there are no differences in effectiveness compared with other conventional therapies. Specific botanical medicines can be effective for acute episodes of chronic non-specific LBP in terms of short-term improvement in pain and functional status; long-term efficacy was not assessed. Massage seems more beneficial than sham treatment for chronic non-specific LBP but effectiveness compared with other conventional therapies is inconclusive. Neuroreflexotherapy appears to be more effective than sham treatment or standard care for chronic non-specific LBP. Spinal manipulation was more effective than sham manipulation or ineffective therapies, and equally effective as other conventional therapies. In summary, the results on CAM therapies for (acute episodes of) chronic LBP are promising but more evidence on the relative cost-effectiveness compared to conventional treatments is needed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Complementary Therapies* / economics
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology
  • Low Back Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome