NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Chiropractors are tops for taking care of back pain, according to a survey of more than 14,000 Consumer Reports subscribers.

Physical therapists and acupuncturists came in a close second and third, while specialist physicians and primary care doctors lagged behind, the survey shows.

The Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center asked subscribers who had suffered lower back pain during the past year but hadn’t undergone back surgery to rate 23 different treatments, as well as their satisfaction with care provided by different types of practitioners. The survey is summarized in the May 2009 issue of Consumer Reports.

More than half of the study participants said their back pain had limited their activity for more than a week at a time, and 88 percent said their back pain recurred throughout the year. Just over a third said they had never sought professional help for their back pain.

Chiropractic was the treatment that was most helpful for the most people, with 58 percent saying it had helped them “a lot” while 48 percent said massage had helped them a lot and 46 percent said physical therapy was helpful.

In terms of self-help approaches, exercise was the most popular, with 44 percent of survey respondents saying it was helpful and 58 percent saying they wished they had done more back-strengthening exercise in the previous 12 months.

Fifty-nine percent of study participants said they were highly satisfied with the treatment and advice they got from chiropractors, compared to 55 percent for physical therapists, 53 percent for acupuncturists, 44 percent for specialist physicians, and 34 percent for primary care doctors.

In a companion survey, Consumer Reports asked nearly 1,000 subscribers who had undergone back surgery in the past five years to rate their experience. Only 60 percent said they were satisfied with the results, and satisfaction depended on the indication for the surgery. People who had undergone operations for narrowing of the spinal cord channel or slipped disks were more likely to be happy with the results than those who had arthritis of the spine.

Most people in the surgery survey also said that the recovery was longer and more painful than they had thought it would be, and many wished they had received more rehabilitation after surgery.

People who are told they need surgery for back pain should always get a second opinion from another health care provider, according to a press release from Consumer Reports, “preferably one who is not a surgeon.”

SOURCE: Consumer Reports, May 2009.