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What’s the best treatment for back and neck pain?

If you’ve ever lifted too many bags of groceries at once, been pulled by a dog who decided that squirrel soufflé would make an excellent afternoon snack or walked to your car with your cellphone pressed against your ear — while balancing your coffee mug and your briefcase and digging for your keys — you already know that modern life can be a real pain in the neck (or back or shoulder).

Many of us don’t want to drop an atom bomb of aspirin on our livers, so we turn to techniques like chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture and massage for increased mobility and pain relief. Recently, Consumer Reports spoke with some experts and reviewed study results to determine if these therapies actually work — or if our skeptic friends are right to roll their eyes and tell us that we need to go a “real doctor.”

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The final verdict is mixed — though these “alternative” therapies are shown to reduce skeletal and muscular pain, there’s little evidence to support claims that they can remedy other health conditions (so, unfortunately, that Swedish massage isn’t going to clear up your sinus infection).

Chiropractors perform millions of spinal adjustments each year, and studies around lower-back pain indicate that these regular adjustments can be just as effective as exercise and over-the-counter pain medicines — in the short-term at least.

Massage therapy also has some short-term impact. Getting our muscles stretched and rubbed does more than make us feel like we’re loving the spa life on the latest Real Housewives spinoff. It can stimulate nerves that block pain signals and release endorphins. Regular massage treatments can improve your walking and mobility and help you sleep better.

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Studies also suggest that acupuncture works in a similar way — though this ancient healing technique purports to unblock parts of one’s chi, or life essence, for healing — it in fact activates those pain-blocking nerves and sends a call to arms out to endorphins.

So, booking that massage or a session with a chiropractor or an acupuncturist isn’t going to restore you to perfect health — but odds are, it’ll reduce your pain and help you relax. Just be sure that you’re seeking the care of a trained, licensed professional.

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