The Benefits of Homeopathic Care for Chronic Low Back PainNo matter what causes low back pain, homeopathy may be able to help reduce symptoms, eliminate the need for pain relievers, and improve quality of life. These are the results of a study from Germany where the use of homeopathy is more widely accepted than in the United States.
Homeopathy refers to a form of alternative medicine that treats an illness with heavily diluted preparations that are thought to cause effects similar to the disease's symptoms. It was first reported on by a German physician Samuel Hahnemann back in 1796. The homeopathic substances are referred to as remedies rather than drugs.
Homeopathic treatment takes into consideration the whole patient -- mind and body, not just the symptoms. The homeopathic treatment of the whole patient (with all signs and symptoms) is referred to as classic homeopathy. Paying attention to all aspects of the person (not just the fact that they are having back pain) means that the remedies vary from patient to patient. Anyone with any type of low back pain from trauma, arthritis, disc degeneration, or other physical (and even psychologic) causes can benefit from a homeopathic approach.
In this study, 129 adults with low back pain from any cause were treated by 48 homeopathic-trained physicians in many different centers across Germany. Before treatment, the patients wrote down all of their symptoms and rated their pain intensity from zero (no pain) to 10 (worst pain). They also filled out two other surveys of questions related to physical and mental function as well as quality of life.
Most patients received an average of six homeopathic remedies over a period of three to 12 months. Everyone had chronic (longstanding) low back pain. Some patients also had other symptoms such as headache, hay fever, trouble sleeping, fatigue, or skin problems. A wide range of different remedies was used but most of them boiled down to one of 10 basic categories.
Everyone was followed by phone consultation and/or personal follow-up visits for up to two years. At the end of the two years, one fourth of the group was fully cured (no back pain). About 20 per cent said they were at least 50 per cent better. The rest experienced some, but not as much, improvement. No one said they got worse.
As mentioned, there were four main benefits observed: decreased pain, improved quality of life, reduced use of prescription or over-the-counter drugs, and reduced use of health care visits. But the authors were quick to point out that there are some important things to consider when reviewing these results.
First of all, the patients in this study were seeking homeopathic care. It was not a randomized controlled trial where some patients are randomly placed in two or more groups. Some are treated one way (e.g., conventional means) and other patients are treated another (e.g., homeopathic treatment). The methods used in this current study don't control for the placebo effect. Placebo means the patient expects to get treatment that will be helpful, so even when they are getting a sugar pill, they get good results.
The fact that the patients in this study were self-selecting homeopathic care was examined more closely. It turns out that these patients were better educated and with higher incomes than traditionally treated patients. One other observation: the patients in this study had been treated conventionally and turned to homeopathy when the results were unsatisfactory. This set of patient characteristics called demographics may be important and bear further study.
It was also the case that only physicians with certification and experience in classic homeopathy were included in this study. And only about one per cent of the certified practitioners were included. So there's lots of room for different results in the general population who are seeking the care of other than classic homeopathic practices.
The results of this one study don't answer all the questions. But they got the discussion started about the role of homeopathics in the treatment of chronic low back pain. Just knowing that many people seek this type of alternative care after traditional medicine failed to help them will alert those people responsible for making decisions about health care policies.
Claudia M. Witt, MD, MBA, et al. Homeopathic Treatment of Patients with Chronic Low Back Pain. In Clinical Journal of Pain. May 2009. Vol. 25. No. 4. Pp. 334-339.
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