Back pain is a common complaint, but if you’ve ever had it, you know how debilitating it can be. Back pain may result from several musculoskeletal problems like arthritis or from injuries to the vertebral column from sprains, fractures, slipped disc etc. Sometimes, unrelated problems such as kidney stones and urinary infections may manifest as lower back pain as well.
If you suffer from frequent back strain, musculoskeletal pain or have suffered an injury, you may feel like there is very little that can be done to bring you relief.
Although there are plenty of prescription medications that may give you some break from the pain, they come with a host of side effects. Luckily, there are many home remedies that can ease the pain. These natural, low or no cost alternatives to harsh drugs may be just the relief you have been looking for.
Here are just a few of the home remedies you can try.
After any injury, the first step is damage control. Cold compresses can do just that. Besides numbing the area, the cold decreases the blood flow to the site and helps reduce swelling.
When some part of our body is injured, an involuntarily healing mechanism immediately kicks in. Large amounts of materials needed for tissue repair are directed towards the site. Although our body does this to heal the injury, the accumulation of fluid can cause swelling and pain.
Cold compression, when used as the first line of treatment, slows down this process and reduces inflammation. This treatment is particularly useful in reducing pain due to strains, sprains, and ligament injury, but only if you start it immediately after the injury has occurred, and continue it for up to 48 hours afterwards.
The moment you feel you have twisted or strained your back while lifting heavy weights or doing some strenuous job or exercise, reach for an ice pack. Wrap it in a towel and press it close to the problem area. Other alternatives are frozen bags of rice, corn or peas that you may have in stock. Try this ACE Compress Back Wrap as it may be more comfortable than an ice pack and is also more flexible.
Don’t use a cold pack for more than 20 minutes at a time. Repeat the treatment as often as you want, but take a rest in between.
Applying heat to the affected area can relieve chronic back pain and it is definitely more comforting than a cold compress. However, warm packs should be avoided in the first 48 hours following an injury.
Heat is particularly effective in relieving muscle soreness resulting from overexertion because it increases blood circulation. When muscles are at work, certain byproducts accumulate in the tissues causing muscle fatigue and soreness. Improved blood circulation means faster elimination of these substances and pain relief.
If you have recurrent back pain, especially after exertion, apply this hot gel back wrap to the affected area.
Strengthen your back muscles with stretching exercises
Muscle laxity is one of the leading causes of back injury and pain. Good muscle tone helps keep the vertebrae in place and prevent sprains and strains. Gentle stretching exercises before you get out of bed can prepare your back for the rigors of the day. These exercises are most effective if you do them first thing in the morning because your body is more relaxed after a good sleep.
Lying on your back, stretch out both arms over your head as far back as they will go. Bend your knees and slowly bring up each knee to your chest. This exercise will help stretch the vertebral column. Once you get off the bed, stretch backwards and sideways. Consult a qualified physiotherapist for more stretching exercises that would help with back pain. Dynamic lumbar stabilization and McKenzie exercises are often recommended by professionals.
Make it a habit to do several rounds of stretching exercises everyday to get a strong, yet flexible spine. This will reduce back pain and the risk of injury to the back when you bend or lift weights. You shouldn’t overdo the exercises though, especially if your back pain is due to a slipped disc or joint problems. Start with a few exercises and increase the tempo as you develop more tolerance. You can even add some low-impact aerobic exercises a little at a time. The endorphins released during workouts can offer pain relief too.
If you notice an increase in back pain, stop the exercises and consult an orthopedic doctor.
Recommended Reading: 10 Simple Exercises That Ease Lower Back Pain
Correct your faulty posture
Faulty posture is a common cause of back pain. Sometimes, a simple modification of posture is all you need to completely get rid of the problem. When you have an episode of back pain, try various postures to find a comfortable one.
Put your weight on both feet and move your pelvis back and forth until you discover a position that is pain-free. While holding your lower back in that position, move the upper body to find a posture that goes well with the position of your pelvis. Even the way you hold your head and neck can have an effect on your back pain.
To say that a straight back is the best posture for all situations is a generalization at best. Trial and error is the only way to arrive at the most comfortable postures for standing, sitting and walking. Once you discover the right posture for you, take extra effort to maintain it at all times so that it becomes your second nature.
Get a relaxing back massage
You can get relief from back pain with a few massage sessions a week. The massage doesn’t have to be vigorous or done by professionals. In fact, heavy massage can actually exacerbate certain types of backaches.
A gentle massage by a partner may be all that you need to get rid of back pain. It can relax the muscles of the back and improve blood circulation. You can use a massage oil with a few drops of the essential oils of chamomile or lavender for added effect.
Have a read of this post for four pain relieving massage oil blends.
Apply capsaicin ointment
Capsaicin is the substance that makes chili peppers hot. Ointments containing capsaicin has been found to be effective in relieving arthritic pain. When applied externally, capsaicin gives a hot sensation initially, but it is followed by pain relief for extended periods.
Capsaicin acts on the nerves and reduces a chemical called substance P which transmits the sensation of pain to the brain. When substance P levels are low, brain does not register pain. The ointment should ideally contain 0.075% capsaicin. Test it on a small area of the skin first to rule out allergic reactions. Try this Dr. Harvey’s Herbal Pain Relief Cream which contains capsaicin. Alternatively, find out how to make your own capsaicin cream courtesy of EverydayRoots.com.
Try some herbal remedies
Many herbal remedies can provide lasting pain relief. They can be a better alternative to the over-the-counter analgesics used to treat back pain.
Chamomile tea is a stress reliever and muscle relaxant. You can brew a soothing tea by steeping 1 tablespoon Roman Chamomile flowers in a cup of boiling water.
Ginger tea is anti-inflammatory. Boil 2-3 slices of fresh ginger in a cup of water and drink it warm. You can add ginger to your green tea too.
Turmeric in milk is a traditional back pain remedy in Asian herbal medicine. Add half a teaspoon of turmeric powder to a cup of hot coconut milk and drink before bedtime. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties that will go to work right away to reduce swelling and pain.
Get good sleep
If you’re sleeping fewer hours at night, that could be the reason for your troubles. Lack of sleep can give you back pain. A good sleep can take away the strain from your back muscles, but back pain can cause insomnia and insomnia can worsen back pain. This vicious cycle has to be broken with some other method of pain relief and relaxing techniques first.
Sleeping position matters too. It is better to sleep on your side with slightly bent knees. Keeping a pillow between the knees can help too. If you’d rather sleep on your back, try keeping a pillow under the knees.
Excess body weight is a big strain on your back, especially weight gain in the abdominal area. It changes the way you walk. The typical waddling motion of overweight people is all too apparent.
Losing a few pounds can make a dramatic difference to your posture and may cure your back problems once and for all. If you plan to lose weight by exercise, you should avoid strenuous workouts that might strain your back. Eat a whole foods diet and try gentle movement such as walking – you can drop quite a few pounds by doing just these two things.
Take a warm bath
Relaxing in a warm tub may help with your back pain. The water need not be very hot. The idea is to spend up to half an hour in a comfortably warm water to relax the back muscles and improve circulation. Hydrotherapy for pain relief has been tried and tested down through the ages.
Sleep on a firmer bed
Soft, cushiony mattresses may look and feel very comfortable, but they may be contributing to back pain. Your spine needs firm support while sleeping. This is particularly important if you’re sleeping on your back.
If you are using an extra springy bed, try sleeping on a firmer mattress for a while to find out whether it resolves your back pain.
If it is not feasible to change your bed, modify it by inserting a sheet of thick plywood under the top mattress. This will offer some softness combined with sufficient support for your back.
Smokers are known to develop lower back pain more often compared to nonsmokers. One reason could be osteoporosis which is very common in smokers. Osteoporosis weakens the bones and makes it prone to fractures. It may cause compression fractures in the small vertebrae that make up the spine and lead to back pain.
A bone density test can reveal whether you have osteoporosis or not.
It is never too late to quit smoking. If it relieves back pain, it is an additional bonus.
Change your footwear
The potential of footwear to cause back pain is often overlooked. High heels are generally thought to be troublesome, but completely flat sandals without any arch support can be equally bad. Flip flops and crocs may look very comfortable, but they may not be all that great for your back.
Footwear with sufficient support and cushioning is not only good for your feet but kind to your back also. The structure of your foot determines what type of footwear is best for you. People with flatfoot actually benefit from wearing shoes with an inch or more of heels.
If you cannot identify any other reason for your back pain, a visit to a podiatrist may be the answer. He might be able to suggest what kind of footwear would suit you. If required, you can even get custom-made insoles or shoes.
Prevention is better than cure
Almost 50% of people experience back pain sometime during their life, and in most cases, it becomes a chronic problem. Injuries to the spine and back muscles being major triggers, one way to prevent them is learning the right way of doing heavy work.
People who habitually haul heavy things rarely have a problem but those who do unaccustomed work often end up hurting their back. That is mainly because of wrong procedure. For instance, if you pick up a heavy object from the floor by bending your back, you are at risk of straining your back. But the same object can be picked up safely by bending at the knee and straightening up using the thigh and calf muscles.
Learn from experienced people the right way of doing heavy tasks with minimal stress on the back. That includes lifting a baby and shoveling snow. Keeping physically fit with regular exercise also helps because strong muscles are less prone to injury, and they protect the spine too.