8 Ways to Relieve Back Pain, According to a Doctor
This blog has not been approved by your local health department and is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment, or medical advice.
In this article:
- 1. Limited Bed Rest
- 2. Movement Therapy
- 3. Increase Your Fiber Intake
- 4. Heat and Cold Therapies
- 5. Consider Herbal Preparations
- 6. Apply An Analgesic (Pain Relief) Preparation
- 7. Get Adequate Sleep
- 8. Manage Stress
Back pain is a common reason given for missing work, and it’s actually the number one cause of disability worldwide. In fact, experts estimate that 4 out of every 5 people will experience back pain at some point in their lives.
Since back pain is such a regular occurrence, it’s good to know what can be done to manage this condition. There are many natural options that can provide relief and sometimes help keep it from returning. Here’s a look at some of the most effective remedies.
1. Limited Bed Rest
While it used to be the mainstay of treatment, bed rest is generally no longer the recommended course of action. The focus of care now tends to be on maintaining your mobility.
Bed rest can sometimes be helpful in cases of severe back pain that makes it difficult to stand or sit upright. So, if you do resort to remaining in bed, limit it to a couple of hours at a time and avoid going longer than one or two days.
Even during bed rest, it’s wise to engage in some light physical activity. Periodically rotate your body, switching from lying on one side to the other. Consider bending and stretching your arms and legs. Other ideas include shoulder rolls and neck, wrist, and ankle rotations.
2. Movement Therapy
Exercise works to build a strong and supple body that is less prone to injury. Additionally, when you strengthen muscles, they can better support the joints of your spine to reduce joint pain. Exercise can also ease muscle tension that may be associated with your back pain. Another benefit is the release of endorphins which interact with receptors in your brain to decrease your pain perception.
The type of exercise that you choose, of course, depends on your fitness level. Good choices for beginners to consider are walking, tai chi, pilates, and pool exercises as they are low-impact on your joints.
3. Increase Your Fiber Intake
Eating foods that are high in fiber results in short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) being produced as gut bacteria process the fiber in the colon. These SCFAs promote a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut.
When there’s an imbalance, you get an increase in harmful gut bacteria. This condition is known as gut dysbiosis, and it is linked to a higher risk of inflammation developing in your body. Inflammation that persists can lay the groundwork for low back pain to become a chronic problem.
4. Heat and Cold Therapies
Researchers have shown that heat and cold can both be effective for relieving pain. Cold therapy is best used during the acute phase—the first 48 to 72 hours after an injury or flare-up. Benefits include the following:
- Reduced inflammation
- Decrease and prevention of swelling
- A numbing effect for pain relief.
Apply cold therapy to your back using an ice pack or cold compress covered with a cloth as an insulating layer to protect the skin from frostbite. Avoid leaving the cold against your skin for longer than 10 to 20 minutes at a time.
Once 48-72 hours have passed since the onset of your back pain, heat therapy (e.g. heat wrap, heating pad, or hot water bottle) can be considered. The warmth can soothe sore muscles, increase blood flow which aids the healing process and alleviate stiff and achy joints. Always take care to not burn your skin when using heat therapy.
5. Consider Herbal Preparations
Further research is needed in the use of herbs, essential oils, and alternative therapies, but there is evidence that these options can be effective to manage back pain.
It’s always a good idea to consult a health professional before trying an herbal remedy. This is especially wise if you’re taking medication or have a coexisting medical condition. It’s important to look out for possible side effects and drug interactions.
- Tart cherry: Because they are abundant in polyphenols and vitamin C, cherries have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Upon review of recent studies, the consumption of cherries showed a resulting decrease in the signs of arthritis, inflammation, and exercise-induced muscle soreness.
- Green tea: Prepared by steaming and drying the leaves from the Camellia sinensis shrub, green tea is rich in polyphenols. Thus, it’s a potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory effects.
- Turmeric: A member of the Zingiberaceae family of plants, turmeric’s use in traditional medicine dates back centuries. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Studies on osteoarthritis patients have indeed provided some evidence that curcumin is effective for pain relief.
- Ginger: Another member of the Zingiberaceae family, ginger is known for its anti-inflammatory effects. Researchers have shown that ginger can alleviate pain in patients with arthritic conditions.
- Devil’s claw: Scientifically named Harpagophytum procumbens, this plant is native to southern Africa where it has been used for centuries because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Research on patients with low back pain showed that devil’s claw helped alleviate pain and its results were about equal to a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
- Lavender essential oil: Aromatherapy with lavender oil has been researched for its effectiveness as a pain reliever. In a study on children, those patients who inhaled lavender oil after a tonsillectomy required less pain medication. In another study, adult participants were given lavender aromatherapy and it provided a significant decrease in stress levels and reduced pain intensity.
- Chamomile tea: Being an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties, chamomile is one of the oldest and most widely used medicinal plants in the world. Prepared from the dried flowers of Matricaria species, a hot cup of chamomile tea can naturally alleviate back pain by calming the involved muscles and helping them to relax.
6. Apply An Analgesic (Pain Relief) Preparation
There are a variety of topical remedies in the form of gels, creams, and ointments that can ease your back pain, including:
- Capsaicin: The active ingredient in chili peppers, capsaicin acts to temporarily block the way your brain interprets the pain signal that is transmitted through your nerves. Initially, it makes the nerves in the area more sensitive to that signal. But with prolonged use, capsaicin desensitizes the nerve—in other words, the nerve is less reactive to that same pain trigger.
- Menthol: Pain relief preparations that contain menthol have a cooling effect. It acts similarly to capsaicin, initially sensitizing, then desensitizing nerves to the pain signal attempting to send a message to the brain.
- Arnica: Arnica comes from a flowering plant with yellow, daisy-like heads, scientifically named Arnica montana. The only United States Food and Drug Administration-approved and regulated form is the homeopathic preparation. In homeopathy, remedies are created from natural substances and are unique because they are significantly diluted. There is research providing evidence that homeopathic arnica has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.
7. Get Adequate Sleep
Pain can certainly disrupt your sleep, but it works both ways. Lack of adequate sleep can cause pain exacerbations. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that most adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
Another consideration is your body position in bed. Make sure your mattress and pillow are providing proper comfort and alignment for your back. Your pillow should be supportive enough so that your back and neck are at the same level. If you sleep on your side, place an extra pillow between your knees to maintain alignment.
8. Manage Stress
The pain you feel is connected to the level of stress you experience. Stress can set off muscle spasms and tension. There are many stress-relieving techniques that you can try:
- Deep breathing: Spend 10 to 20 minutes each day, taking deep breaths, in and out.
- Mindfulness meditation: There are various techniques, but generally, it involves deep breaths and becoming aware of your body and mind. You can get started by simply sitting in a quiet place for a few minutes. Take deep breaths while focusing on your breath and the sensations of your breathing. Notice what your body feels and the thoughts that cross your mind. It’s important to simply observe and not judge what you are feeling and thinking.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: During this exercise, you alternately tense and relax your muscles, focusing on one muscle group at a time. You can start at your feet and gradually move up to your neck and face.
- Yoga: This type of exercise involves moving through various poses. There is a focus on the connection between the body and mind. It can help you improve your flexibility and mentally cope with pain.
There are many options when you’re looking to manage your low back pain with a natural approach. In addition to those listed above, you might also consider treatments like acupuncture or biofeedback.
While many people opt for home remedies, it is important to consult a health practitioner for back pain that is severe, chronic, or worsening. If your back pain lasts longer than 48 hours or is associated with fever, seek the advice of a health professional.
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