When back pain is hard to control, people sometimes turn to treatments outside of mainstream medicine for relief. Here's what you need to know about complementary and alternative treatments for back pain.

Acupuncture. A key component of Chinese traditional medicine, acupuncture involves inserting thin needles at particular points on the body. According to Chinese theory, stimulating the points (called acupoints) can correct the flow of essential life energy called qi (pronounced "chee") to optimize health or block pain. Western doctors believe acupuncture more likely works by prompting the body to release pain-relieving substances called endorphins.
A National Institutes of Health (NIH) panel concluded that acupuncture could help in the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions, such as back pain and even fibromyalgia, without the side effects of medications.

Learn more about acupuncture.

Learn about the use of acupuncture for pain relief from NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Spinal manipulation. Both chiropractors and osteopathic physicians use manipulation to ease back pain, although the way they do it varies. Osteopathic manipulation often involves massaging the soft tissues (such as muscles) around the spine, whereas chiropractic involves manipulating the ligaments and vertebrae of the spine.

Either type of manipulation can be effective for back pain, particularly if pain is caused by problems such as sprains (damage to the ligaments) or strains (damage to the muscles). If you have a problem such as osteoporosis or rheumatoid arthritis, that may cause your spine to be more fragile, you should be cautious about spinal manipulation.

Get the facts about spinal manipulation for low back pain from NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.