Few things can be as immediately disabling as back pain. Our backs are a delicate and complex structure of muscles, ligaments, joints, and bones. Back pain can be caused by a wide range of injuries, dehydration, inflammation, and certain underlying health conditions, and back pain relief can be difficult to come by.
Back pain causes a reduction in physical activity, lost productivity at work, and overall poor quality of life scores according to a study published in the journal European Spine. Either acute or chronic, relieving back pain is vital.
Low back pain is incredibly common, not only in the United States but also globally. In fact, according to findings from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study, low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Fortunately, there are effective natural pain remedies for back pain that can help you enjoy life to the fullest.
Are You at Risk for Back Pain?
Virtually everyone will experience some type of back pain over the course of a year. According to a National Center for Health Statistics 2016 report, during 2012 more than 125 million adults in the United States had a musculoskeletal pain disorder. This staggering figure accounts for more than 50% of the U.S. adult population.
It must be noted that musculoskeletal pain is classified as pain related to nerves, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones, not just in the back. The Cleveland Clinic also puts fibromyalgia, arthritic pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome in the same category.
In the general population, researchers report the lifetime prevalence of back pain high at 85%. This surprising statistic comes from a comprehensive review conducted by researchers from the Department of Sports Medicine and Sports Nutrition in Germany.
This same review also found that in athletes, the lifetime prevalence can be as high as 94%, and it identifies rowing and cross-country skiing as sports with the greatest risk.
Of course, there are also occupations that increase your risk for developing back pain. In a review of the National Health Interview Survey completed by the National Institutes of Health, the following occupations have the highest rate of low back pain—attributed directly to the job:
- Construction and Extraction: 11.22%
- Healthcare Practitioners and Healthcare Support: 10.61%
- Personal Care and Service: 8.27%
- Transportation and Moving: 7.74%
Your risk for developing back pain increases according to a cross-sectional study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases if you:
- Are obese
- Are Inactive
- Have family members with chronic back pain
Types of Back Pain
Back pain can be classified as either acute or chronic. Acute back pain can last anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks, and generally does not require traditional medical intervention. However, when back pain persists or worsens for 12 weeks or longer, the pain is considered chronic, and a consultation with your healthcare provider is advised.
Pain in the back can present in the:
- Lower back
- Middle back
- Upper back
- Neck and shoulders
Back pain can be described as:
Keeping a journal of your pain can help you find a successful treatment. Take note of the type of pain, severity, when it occurs and for how long, the location of the pain, and what you were doing when it occurred. These details can help your wellness team identify the best course of action to relieve your back pain naturally.
Causes of Back Pain
According to Weill Cornell Medicine’s Center for Comprehensive Spine Care, there is a wide range of injuries and medical conditions that can cause back pain. Their list includes:
- Muscle injuries and muscle strains
- Pinched or compressed nerves
- Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal
- Vertebral fractures
- Degenerative disc disease
- Lack of physical activity
The Center for Comprehensive Spine Care makes a special effort to identify the symptoms of thoracic back pain. This type of back pain occurs in the upper back and it may indicate a serious or even potentially life-threatening underlying condition. If you experience upper back pain and any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
- Unexplained weight loss
- Deformity of the spine
- Nerve pain in the lower body
- Numbness or tingling in the legs or lower body
- Severe stiffness
- Severe constant pain
- Changes in bladder or bowel function
9 Natural Remedies for Back Pain Relief
1. Fish Oil (2,000 milligrams a day)
Omega-3 fatty acids make an essential contribution according to the Harvard T.H. Chan’s School of Public Health. Omega-3s cannot be produced in the body; they must be consumed. The richest sources are coldwater fish, walnuts, and flax seeds.
Every healthy diet should include a variety of foods with these essential fats to reap their health benefits. However, when you are experiencing back pain, taking a high-quality supplement of 2,000 milligrams a day may be advised. In a landmark study conducted by the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical center, fish oil was shown to be as effective and safer than NSAIDs in relieving back pain.
While omega 3s are well-tolerated in food, check with your doctor prior to taking a fish oil supplement if you have type 2 diabetes, take blood thinners, have a bleeding disorder, or a shellfish allergy.
2. Turmeric (1,000 milligrams a day)
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric that fights inflammation and reduces pain, is one of the most effective natural compounds in the world. Researchers from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s Department of Experimental Therapeutics conducted a clinical trial that found that natural compounds including curcumin are more effective than aspirin or ibuprofen.
Curcumin’s health benefits extend beyond inflammation and pain relief. In fact, in a systematic review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers state curcumin is safe in doses up to 2500 milligrams a day and can be used to treat a wide range of conditions. Current clinical trials are focusing on curcumin’s ability to prevent cancer, fight cancer, and even make traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy more effective.
Incorporating turmeric into your diet is easy. The small orange root is now readily available in most grocery stores. Just look for it near the fresh ginger. But please note, when using fresh or powdered turmeric, to get its full benefit, it must be combined with black pepper. Piperine, an essential compound in black pepper, makes it easier for the body to absorb curcumin.
Turmeric is easy to incorporate into salad dressings, stews and soups, and rice dishes for daily enjoyment. When you feel you need an extra boost of curcumin’s anti-inflammatory powers, sip on a Turmeric Latte. This delightful warm drink is easily made with ingredients in your pantry—just don’t forget to add the black pepper!
3. D-Phenylalanine (1,500 milligrams a day, for several weeks)
D-Phenylalanine, or DPA, is one of the essential amino acids that is recognized for its power to reduce low back pain according to University of Michigan’s, Michigan Medicine. They report DPA decreases pain and can inhibit chronic pain in some cases. There are currently 48 clinical trials evaluating the safety and efficacy of phenylalanine on conditions like cystic fibrosis and PKU, as well as the levels needed for wellness.
To learn more about taking phenylalanine for back pain, check out this article.
4. L-Tryptophan (2-6 grams a day)
Tryptophan, most commonly associated with turkey “comas” on Thanksgiving, is another of the essential amino acids that can help when you are experiencing upper back pain, middle back pain, or lower back pain. Tryptophan plays a critical role in back pain relief by helping to repair muscle tissue that has been damaged. Additional tryptophan benefits include reducing anxiety and depression.
An important note about amino acid supplements: The balance of amino acids in your blood is a delicate one. Because certain amino acids hitch a ride on the same transporter for entry into the brain, increasing levels of one without increasing levels of the other can restrict access and adversely affect mind and mood. For this reason, it’s recommended to supplement with a complete essential amino acid blend formulated with an ideal ratio of aminos.
5. Collagen (2-5 grams a day)
A vital protein, and the most abundant in the human body, collagen is the substance that gives our skin, hair, ligaments, and tendons the fuel they need. If your joints creak or pop, you may not have enough collagen “greasing the wheel” between your joints. And that can increase the risk for joint deterioration that can cause arthritis and chronic back pain.
Collagen is recognized for improving skin health, hair health, IBS symptoms, cellulite, muscle mass, and is even recognized as an effective treatment for joint disorders and osteoarthritis according to researchers from the University of Illinois’ College of Medicine. This study specifically points to the efficacy of collagen hydrolysate.
Think of collagen hydrolysate as gelatin. It is rich in amino acids, but it has been processed fairly extensively to make the proteins smaller and more easily absorbed. Seek a high-quality supplement from a reputable company to add to your diet. While generally considered safe, some mild side effects have been reported with collagen supplements, namely digestive upset and heartburn.
A popular and time-tested holistic technique, acupuncture has been shown to improve chronic back pain. In a large-scale clinical trial, researchers from Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics evaluated the efficacy of acupuncture for back and neck pain, arthritis pain, chronic headaches, and shoulder pain. The researchers determined that acupuncture is effective for chronic pain and verified that acupuncture has more than a placebo effect.
Massage is known for relieving stress, anxiety, pain, and a variety of other health conditions. Professional athletes often turn to massage after a tough workout or game to help relieve sore or strained muscles. Massage therapists can target specific muscles, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues that are causing back pain.
There are a number of massage modalities, with some dating back to ancient China. Depending on the root cause of the back pain, a licensed and experienced massage therapist might recommend a deep tissue, sports, soft tissue, or Shiatsu massage. Massage is believed to relieve low back pain by improving circulation, releasing tension, increasing endorphin levels, and improving range of motion. Understand that it may take multiple sessions to accomplish relief.
8. Capsaicin Cream
Made from the compound found in cayenne and other hot peppers that cause the burning sensation and taste, capsaicin promotes pain relief, particularly for back pain, according to a study published in the journal Molecules. Available both over-the-counter and by prescription, a topical capsaicin cream can provide immediate back pain relief.
It is important to purchase a high-quality product and apply it as directed on the packaging. In itself, capsaicin can create pain, but it can also relieve the discomfort and pain caused by soft tissue injuries, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and muscle pulls or strains. Researchers believe that the heat generated by the capsaicin works by activating pain receptors that cause the brain to release pain-fighting hormones.
9. DIY Pain Relief Rub
For a quick DIY topical back pain reliever (that smells great too!) use the recipe below. It is perfect for relieving lower back pain after a hard workout or pulling weeds. When applied, it provides a cooling, yet invigorating effect because of the menthol in the peppermint oil.
DIY Pain Relief Rub
- 5-7 drops peppermint essential oil
- 5-7 drops lavender essential oil
- 5-7 drops marjoram essential oil
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup coconut oil or jojoba oil
Mix all ingredients together until well combined. Massage into sore muscles and joints daily, or as needed.
6 Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Back Pain
1. Exercise Regularly
The more you move, the better. Regular exercise is important for keeping your strength, flexibility, balance, and cardiovascular health at their pinnacle. Low-impact exercise like walking, riding a bike, and swimming are good options when you have back pain.
In addition to helping regulate weight, regular exercise has been shown to help:
- Manage blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics
- Improve immune system response and relieve stress
- Improve cognitive function
- Relieve depression and boost mood
- Reduce the risk of falling
- Alleviate chronic low back pain
Aim for 180 minutes each week, or 30 minutes a day, of moderate, low-impact exercise to relieve back pain and discomfort. The other health benefits will help to prevent additional injury and improve cardiovascular function.
2. Stay Hydrated
Drink at least 8 ounces of pure water for every 10 pounds of body weight to stay properly hydrated. When you are dehydrated, the natural lubrication in your spinal discs is depleted and can result in backaches and fatigue.
More worrisome side effects of dehydration are kidney stones and urinary tract infections, both of which can cause back pain. According to the National Kidney Foundation, it is vital to drink enough water during workouts and periods of hot weather as prolonged or frequent dehydration can cause kidney damage.
3. Lift Heavy Items Properly
Avoiding back injury is the best way to prevent back pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is important to use proper lifting techniques to avoid back pain. The Mayo Clinic recommends:
- Starting in a safe position
- Maintaining the natural curve of your spine
- Using your legs to lift the weight
- Squatting instead of kneeling
- Avoiding twisting
4. Practice Pilates
Joseph Pilates developed this practice of stretching and body conditioning while interned during World War I. The reformer, which is widely used in Pilates studios today, is modeled after the first equipment he developed in the internment camp using bunk beds, springs, and ropes.
Pilates is focused on increasing core strength and creating long fluid muscle groups. This practice can help prevent injuries to the back and provide back pain relief. If you do have back pain, medical research shows that a regular Pilates practice is a great way to strengthen your core to prevent low back pain. In the just-released results of a randomized controlled trial, 12 weeks of Pilates practice improved chronic back pain.
Most metropolitan areas have established Pilates studios where experienced instructors and reformers are available. If a studio is not available in your area, Pilates equipment, including reformers, are available for home use.
5. Tai Chi
This ancient martial art has been practiced for thousands of years. It is characterized by slow, precise, and controlled movements—a very different discipline than other martial arts that focus on explosive power. Tai Chi epitomizes the mind-body connection, as every fiber of your being must be engaged for best practice.
According to Harvard Medical School, the health benefits of Tai Chi include aerobic conditioning, improved flexibility and balance, improved muscle strength, and improved muscle response, and it can reduce falls. Tai Chi can be practiced by virtually anyone, in any health condition. It involves low-impact and slow-motion isolating muscle groups responsible for core strength, balance, and confidence.
Millions of Americans today practice a form of yoga. This practice combines deep relaxation, breathing, meditation, and postures that are mixed together in balance to create a discipline known for reducing pain and improving balance, flexibility, and strength.
According to Harvard Medical School, yoga’s proven health benefits include:
- Reducing your risk of heart disease
- Relieving migraines
- Fighting osteoporosis
- Alleviating the pain of fibromyalgia
- Easing multiple sclerosis symptoms
- Increasing blood vessel flexibility (69%!)
- Shrinking arterial blockages
Regular yoga practice can help you prevent injury and back pain. And, if you have low back pain, a systematic review and meta-analysis focusing on the effectiveness of yoga and back pain found that yoga is effective for both short-term and long-term relief of chronic low back pain.
As mentioned above, back pain accompanied by certain other symptoms can be a sign of serious underlying health conditions. If you experience back pain and any of the following symptoms, please consult with your physician immediately:
- High fever
- Numbness or tingling in any part of the body
- Deformity of the spine
- Unexpected weight loss
- Severe stiffness
- Severe constant pain
- Changes in bladder or bowel function
Back pain symptoms tend to recur, with studies showing a recurrence rate of somewhere between 24% and 80%. Learn to lift heavy items properly and build your core strength to reduce your risk of future injury and back pain.
At the End of the Day
Back pain is costly. It affects productivity at work, healthcare costs, and most importantly your quality of life. Whether acute or chronic, when you are in pain, the only thing you can focus on is effective back pain relief. Whether it strikes as lower back pain, middle back pain, or as neck and shoulder pain, pain is pain and finding the natural back pain remedy to ease your pain is essential.
Once the root cause of your back pain is determined, natural lower back pain remedies and upper back pain remedies are available. The key is finding the combination of treatments that work for you. Whether it is a high-quality amino acid supplement, a DIY essential oil rub, yoga, or Pilates, you can improve your quality of life and relieve your discomfort.