Back pain is one of the most common — and debilitating — medical problems. The National Institutes of Health reports 80 percent of Americans suffer from a back injury at some point in their lives – with many people reaching for over-the-counter relief such as aspirin, ibuprofen or anti-inflammatories. Though effective, long-term use of these medications can lead to stomach ulcers. A better approach is helping your body heal itself through natural means, such as diet, supplements, bodywork and exercise. Here’s how.
Causes of back pain
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, back pain has many causes, including poor biomechanics, degenerative changes in the spine, injuries from falls or improper lifting, overuse and some medical conditions.
Whether you have chronic back pain or if you only have occasional backaches, changes in your lifestyle can help you strengthen your back , prevent back injuries and put an end to back pain for good. Here are some recommendations from Chrystle Fielder, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Natural Remedies.
Natural remedies for back pain
Fielder, who tapped the expertise of top alternative care practitioners to write her book, suggests the following ways to reduce back pain — for good.
1. Clean up your diet
Improving your diet by eliminating alcohol, dairy, caffeine, sugar and high-fat foods as well as eating whole foods, fruits and veggies, and omega-3s can help your body regenerate and repair itself.
2. Stay hydrated
Fielder says drinking enough water may help reduce the shrinkage that happens in the spongy disks of the back (shrinkage occurs naturally with age and can lead to pain). Caffeine, as in coffee and soda, may cause dehydration and should be replaced with water. She also suggests drinking more than the minimum eight (8-ounce) glasses a day if you exercise.
3. Take glucosomine, chondroitin and MSM
These three supplements are associated with connective tissue repair and are often recommended by naturopathic experts to treat back pain. Talk to your healthcare provider about the proper dosage.
4. Try natural painkillers
Unlike medications, natural painkillers won’t upset the stomach. Fielder recommends devil’s claw, which research shows is comparable to Vioxx for pain relief, and turmeric, known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Willow bark — the active ingredient of which is similar to that in aspirin — is more gentle on the stomach and is just as effective in pain management as NSAID rofecoxib.
Bromelain (derived from pineapples) and the ayurvedic herb boswellia provide anti-inflammatory benefits and pain relief.
5. Sip ginger tea
Another natural remedy for back pain, as suggested by Dr Jacob Teitelbaum, author of Pain 1-2-3: A Proven Program for Eliminating Chronic Pain Now, is fresh ginger: Dice a slice into a cup of hot water and enjoy.
6. Relax with B vitamins
Dr Teitelbaum also recommends vitamins B1, B2, B6 and B12. These help muscles relax and can decrease neuropathic pain.
7. Eat up omega-3s
Fielder says the back loves omega-3s because the fatty acids help reduce inflammation and, as a result, back pain. She recommends eating coldwater fish or taking fish or flaxseed oil supplements.
8. Consider chiropractic
Find a chiropractor who not only does manual realignment of the spine but also incorporates exercise, strength training, stress management, nutrition and stretching into treatment programs for back pain. Getting the back in alignment is only one part of the process to treat back pain; strengthening and balancing your muscles and nourishing your body and mind are essential, too.
9. Aromatherapy to the rescue
For topical relief, make your own massage oil with 1) a base oil and 2) healing essential oils, such as peppermint, rosemary and lavender.
10. Alternative therapies
A number of alternative therapies are proven to reduce back pain. Massage, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy and yoga can help relieve tight muscles, increase circulation, release endorphins and encourage the body to heal and repair itself.
Talk to your primary care provider about your back pain to rule out serious conditions that need to be treated by a specialist. If you are in the clear, then be sure to practice proper lifting techniques, follow a healthful lifestyle and incorporate the natural remedies above to promote long-term pain relief.