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Alternative treatments


Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine. It works by changing the pain message that your nerves send to your brain. In an acupuncture treatment:

  • You will lie down on an exam table. The acupuncturist will insert very thin needles just under your skin with a twirling or gently jiggling motion. The needles are placed on certain "energy points" in your body.
  • You may not feel the needles at all, or you may feel a twitch or a quick twinge of pain or warmth. This feeling will go away when the needle is inserted all the way.
  • After the needles are in place, you will usually rest on the table for 15 to 60 minutes.

Acupuncture has not shown any benefits for acute (sudden or severe) low back pain in most people, but it may provide some help for people with chronic (long-term) low back pain.

If you decide to try acupuncture, make sure you go to an experienced acupuncturist who uses sterilized equipment.


Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS) use low-level electrical pulses to stop back pain. Both of these apply stimulation through the skin.

Both TENS and PENS have been tested in medical studies. In these studies, they did not reduce chronic low back pain very much.


Biofeedback measures your body functions and gives you information about them. This information helps you learn to control your body functions. A biofeedback therapist applies sensors to your body and teaches you ways to lower your heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and breathing rate.

Becoming aware of your mind-body connection may help you reduce tension and relieve pain. In studies, biofeedback did not help people with chronic low back pain.


Yoga is a form of exercise that began in India. It combines low-impact movements and meditation. It is meant to bring physical and mental balance. It can also strengthen your muscles. If done regularly, yoga can help prevent low back pain and strengthen the core muscles that support your back. This can decrease the stress in your back and pain.

There are many different styles of yoga. If you are just starting out, try a gentle style with a yoga instructor who has worked with people with back pain. For many people, more demanding forms of yoga can make back pain worse.

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Review Date: 4/3/2018

Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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