The American College of Physicians wants doctors to avoid prescribing drugs for back pain and instead suggest alternatives  like exercise, massage and yoga.

The American College of Physicians wants doctors to avoid prescribing drugs for back pain and instead suggest alternatives  like exercise, massage and yoga.

Sports Massage/Flickr

The American College of Physicians has updated its guidelines for treating lower back pain. The hope is to reduce opioid dependency.

The college used to say the first line of defense for back pain was over-the-counter pain relievers or opioids, depending on the severity of the pain. But now it wants doctors to avoid prescribing drugs and instead suggests patients try other therapies like exercise, massage or yoga.

One of the study’s authors, Oregon Health and Science University professor Rick Deyo, said the change is aimed at the ongoing opioid epidemic.

“There’s also good evidence that the effectiveness of these drugs in the long-term is simply not exactly what you’d like,” Deyo said. “And at the same time, growing evidence that some of these non-drug therapies really do have some benefit.”

Deyo said people should think of short-term back pain like a cold: It’s common and very annoying, but most of the time it’s not serious and people will get better relatively quickly.

Chronic back pain on the other hand, which lasts for a few months or more, could still require more traditional treatments like pain medication.