What my dog taught me about back pain

Who hasn’t suffered from back pain at some point in their life? I think it’s something just about everyone can relate to. In fact, my dog Remington is currently recovering from a three-month battle with back pain so severe, he was having trouble walking. But I’m happy to say he’s finally getting better, thanks to a new regimen of acupuncture and craniosacral therapy.

Obviously, this isn’t a veterinary newsletter, so you might be wondering why I’m bringing up my dog.

Well the obvious answer is that I love him and I will bring him up any chance I get. But there’s more to it than that…

What’s interesting about my experience with my dog’s pain is that it echoes the journey so many (human) patients go through before they come to me.

After taking my dog to seven vets and not finding either hope or answers from a single one of them, I had to take it upon myself to find someone who approached veterinary medicine in the same way that I approach human medicine.

And that’s what finally worked.

It made me understand on a whole new level why so many people seek me out. They’re looking for real solutions — not just the symptomatic relief that they get from other doctors (if they get any relief at all).

But the point of this Reality Health Check isn’t to bash doctors. (I do that enough.) It’s to illustrate the fact that often there are many non-conventional therapies that work as well as or even better than traditional ones. In Remington’s case, acupuncture and craniosacral therapy helped him where conventional medicine couldn’t.

That’s far from unusual. I’ve had countless patients who finally found relief from their back pain using non-medical treatments. Research backs this up too.

For instance, according to a new study, chronic low-back pain sufferers find just as much relief from yoga as they do from physical therapy (PT) — the first (and often only) non-pharmacological recommendation most doctors make for the condition.

This isn’t the only research showing that yoga stacks up impressively to conventional pain treatments. Other studies have shown yoga helps pain and improves function while also reducing reliance on pain medication. And that’s a very good thing, if you’ve been paying attention to all the risks of Advil, Tylenol, and the like. (And don’t even get me started on opioids.)

This current study included 320 adults with significant debilitating pain. Three out of four were taking pain medication, and one out of five were on opioids. During the study, they were assigned to receive one of three interventions: yoga, physical therapy, or education. Those in the yoga group did one 75-minute class per week. The physical therapy group had fifteen 60-minute sessions. And the education group was given a book on back pain.

The yoga and physical therapy interventions lasted 12 weeks. At the end of that period, more people in the yoga group had at least a 30 percent reduction in pain than in the physical therapy group. Both groups had a similar drop in medication usage (about 20 percent). There was no change in the education group.

Yoga’s effectiveness is good news on several levels. First, it is generally less expensive and more accessible than physical therapy. And second, yoga has additional benefits for people who practice it long-term, including helping to retain gray matter in the brain, which typically deteriorates with age. More gray matter means better brain function — and better pain tolerance.

Bottom line: When it comes to pain relief, there are lots of safe, non-drug options that can positively affect your life and your health, and with a little persistence, you can find one that works just right for you.