Eight out of ten people in America suffer from back pain (1), making those seeking out treatment for back pain relief a major target for drug companies.
Back when I was in my early teens, I remember taking so many drugs for my back pain – but it never got better. At least, not until I started changing my lifestyle.
With the rising trend in back pain, we should ask the question – why has it become so common?
Perhaps it’s the shoes and desk jobs that are contributing to poor posture, or the foods we’re eating that contribute to pain-related inflammation in the body. Maybe it’s the fact that we don’t get enough exercise like our ancestors used to, or that we carry more stress than any generation before us.
Back pain can be mild to severe, depending on whether there is an underlying cause or if it’s been left untreated for some time. So whether your back pain is caused by sciatica, poor posture, or a weak psoas muscle, any and all will benefit from the following back pain relief treatments.
8 Natural Treatments for Back Pain Relief
The structure of the back is complicated to say the least, and to put on top of that a weak core, tight psoas or piriformis muscle and other structural abnormalities, our backs take a lot of abuse.
And while people try to ignore the pain and pop painkillers to get through the day, it doesn’t actually treat the underlying issue. Long-time use of painkillers can lead to things like liver and kidney damage, ulcers, and blood clotting (not the good kind).
Getting to the root of the issue by way of lifestyle changes should always be your first resort. So, without further adieu, here are 8 natural treatments for back pain relief:
Yoga is a great way to help alleviate back pain by helping strengthen weak abdominal and pelvic muscles, and improving flexibility in the hips. When you strengthen the abdominals and pelvis, and stretch out the hips, you improve your posture, which reduces the load on your back, thus reduces the number of aches and pains you feel on a day-to-day basis.
One study even found that a short, but intense 7-day yoga course was able to improve spinal flexibility and reduce pain-related disability in people suffering from chronic lower back pain (2).
Triangle pose, upward & downward facing dog, child’s pose, cat and cow pose, and pigeon pose are all incredibly effective poses that help prevent and cure back pain safely and cheaply.
Use the guide below for a gentle yoga series to help unlock tightness in the hips and back.
Massage is another effective method that helps release muscle knots that are often the culprit of many back-pain issues. There are many different kinds of massage, however, and while the more relaxing, light-touch massage has the ability to whisk us off into a world of soft, fluffy clouds, it isn’t the most useful when it comes to back pain.
The most effective massage techniques when it comes to back pain relief are trigger point release, and deep tissue massage. There are also other soft-tissue therapies like active release technique, Graston Technique, dry needling and neurokinetic therapy, which help “turn on” muscles that have been previously “turned off” due to past injuries. By turning on muscles that have been turned off for so long, soft tissue therapy helps eliminate added stress on painful parts of the back (or other body parts).
While most people would assume that bed rest and inactivity are the best cures for back pain – they’re sadly mistaken. Being physically active is actually one of the best remedies for back pain relief. By strengthening the muscles of the core and back, you’ll actually significantly reduce the pressure on your back, therefore reducing back pain.
Chris Maher, a physical therapist turned researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia notes that “what we do understand about the back is that the more you use it, the more likely you are to keep it strong, fit and healthy (3).”
One study found that when participants with back pain underwent a 10-week specific exercise treatment of the muscles surrounding the spine (like the core), they were able to hold static postures and perform tasks that once aggravated the pain (4). The researchers concluded that their exercise treatment plan was much more effective than commonly prescribed treatments like painkillers.
Working on strengthening your core is an incredibly effective means of reducing back pain. The core doesn’t just consist of the rectus abdominus and obliques. It includes the psoas muscle and spinal erectors, as well as any other muscle that attaches to the pelvic girdle like the glutes, hip flexors, and latissimus dorsi. These muscles help stabilize the spine and skeletal structure while standing or doing any other activity. By strengthening your core, you’ll be stabilizing your spine, and you’ll be strengthening muscles that were once compensated for by others (thus contributing to back pain).
If you want a guide on strengthening the core, check out my article here.
While expensive, prolotherapy is an effective means of using your own platelet-rich plasma (taken from your own body) that is injected into the problem area to help heal damaged tissues. Prolotherapy treatments work by naturally promoting a minor inflammatory response near the damaged connective tissue, thereby promoting regeneration and growth of new, healthier tissue as a result (5).
Prolotherapy has been effectively used for conditions like herniated/bulging discs, arthritis, osteoarthritis, tendonitis and other chronic joint pains. For prolotherapy to work the best, it is suggested to combine it with other back pain treatments like chiropractic adjustments, strengthening exercises and/or a stretching routine.
5. Dry Needling
By targeting myofascial trigger points, dry needling proves a cost-effective alternative for the management of back pain. Dry needling is a procedure, where filiform needles (needles often used in acupuncture) are used to deactivate myofascial trigger points. These trigger points are hyper-irritable spots that are located in tight bands of skeletal muscle. The spots are painful when compressed, and can produce referred pain in other areas of the body.
The goal of dry needling is to create a muscle twitch response (meaning the nerve impulse travels to the spine and back out to the muscle, rather than going to the brain). This allows the physiology of the muscle membrane and tissue to change for the better (6).
For someone who suffers from chronic back pain, dry needling can help target exactly where the trigger point is, and when the needle is put into the trigger point, the tension in the tight band of muscle in your back is released (thus alleviating back pain).
Dry needling usually does make the area sore for a few days after, but the long-term benefits are quite promising.
6. Anti-Inflammatory Diet
If you want to improve joint motility and muscular health, you’ll want to consume a diet that is anti-inflammatory to help prevent back pains from returning. Personally, a whole foods, plant-based diet, high in raw fruit and vegetables significantly improved the levels of pain I experienced in my body. I actually left my chiropractor because I no longer experienced any pain in my back or neck (the two reasons I went there in the first place).
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and manage pain. These include things like walnuts, flaxseeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds.
Other foods you should be eating regularly are pineapple, ginger and turmeric. These three foods are major anti-inflammatories and are just as effective, if not more so than standard pain killers.
Keep the focus on plenty of hydrating fruit and vegetables. These foods contain plenty of phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals to keep muscular and nerve functions running smoothly.
Staying properly hydrated is also important to help prevent muscle spasms and back pain. Dehydration can actually increase the intensity of back pain you experience, so make sure you get at least 3-4 litres of water in your body every day.
7. Cold Therapy
Cold therapy, or cryotherapy, can be applied in various ways, including icepacks, ice massage or cold whirlpools that bring down the temperature of the skin and tissues beneath it to a depth of 2-4 cm (7). By cooling certain spots of the body (or in the case of cold whirlpools – the entire body), pain receptors are de-activated, which normally carry pain signals to the brain.
Cold therapy also decreases tissue metabolism, blood flow, inflammation and muscle spasms.
One of the most common reasons people develop back pain is poor posture. We get poor posture by wearing shoes that aren’t designed for proper stability of the hips and spine, and by sitting at a desk or in a vehicle all day. By improving your posture, you can lessen muscle tension and help alleviate back pain.
A good tip to improve your posture is to imagine that a cord is attached to the top of your head and it’s pulling you up. Keep the pelvis level and don’t let the lower back sway. Stretch your head up towards the roof and try to expand the space between your pelvis and rib cage. Your body should fall into alignment with this exercise.
You can also do strengthening exercises to help improve your posture, and you can find those exercises in the articles I’ve written here and here.
While these natural treatment options for back pain relief are effective under most circumstances, if you believe your backache is caused by an underlying medical issue or injury, seek medical help. If your back pain doesn’t get better in a couple weeks, is intense, or is worsening, it might be a good idea to get a doctor’s opinion.