Table of Contents
- Why Lower Back Pain Happens
- Conventional Treatments
- Natural Ways to Treat Lower Back Pain
- Heat and Cold
- Avoid Excessive Rest
- Stay Strong and Active
- Stretch Regularly
- Practice Yoga
- Do Pilates
- Get Regular Massages
- Try Acupuncture
- Target Pressure Points
- Consider Soft Tissue Therapy
- Do Tai Chi
- Watch Your Posture
- Reduce Your Stress
- Talk to Someone
- Try Biofeedback
- Consider Herbal Remedies
- Watch Your Ergonomics
- Examine your Shoes and Bags
- Eat to Decrease Inflammation
- Get Good Sleep
- When to See a Doctor
More people visit their doctor each year for back pain than for nearly any other medical problem.
Injuring your back is easy, and many of us have experienced that twinge or tug that tells us something’s not right.
Lower back pain is often hard to heal, though, and those suffering from back problems can suffer from chronic pain.
Fortunately, there are many different ways to treat and prevent lower back pain.
You can learn to handle that lower back pain before it becomes a real problem with this guide to all the best back pain remedies available.
From conventional medical treatments to more natural therapies and remedies, this guide is full of ways to help you address your lower back pain.
Why Lower Back Pain Happens
Nearly all of us, almost 90% of Americans, will experience back pain at some point in our lives.
The good news is, most of the time, lower back pain is acute and not chronic.
Acute lower back pain lasts less than 12 weeks, while chronic pain lasts longer.
The majority of people with complaints about lower back pain do not have a serious illness or chronic health problem, which means, with the right treatment, the pain will get better.
There are many common causes of lower back pain.
- Injuries related to exercise and sports. This includes pulls and strains.
- Leading a sedentary life.
- Being overweight.
- Weakened muscles in other parts of your body that cause compensation by and pressure on your back.
- Using improper form while exercising.
- Wearing non-supportive shoes.
- Overuse of a muscle through over-training.
- Age-related stiffness and inflexibility.
- Fatigue due to lack of sleep.
- Arthritis or other inflammatory problems.
- Being constipated, which puts a strain on abdominal muscles.
Problems with the discs and bones of the spine cause back pain as well, although these conditions are generally more chronic.
Those with infections or other chronic problems with the immune system may also experience back pain.
You are most likely to experience back pain if you are overweight, if you don’t exercise regularly, or if you have chronic health problems.
Lower back pain happens to people of all ages, but the problem’s prevalence increases with age.
There are over four million people disabled due to back problems in the US, some permanently and others only temporarily.
Diagnosing and treating lower back pain currently costs nearly $50 billion each year.
Once you experience lower back pain, there is a high likelihood that you will experience it again.
Roughly one in five people with acute pain will develop chronic pain that lasts over a year.
The lower back, made up the L1-L5 vertebrae of your lumbar region, supports most of the weight of your upper body.
In this region of your spinal cord, you also have over thirty pairs of nerves sending signals both up your spine and down to lower parts of your body.
When you injure this area, it can have a significant impact on your life.
Depending on the causes of your lower back pain, your pain and symptoms may vary.
Common symptoms include:
- Stiffness and reduction in the range of motion.
- Pain and tenderness radiating downward from your lower back.
- Pain when you are asleep or when you stand.
- A weakness of the muscles in the lower back.
- Sharp pain.
- Discomfort while sitting.
- Inability to stand for long periods.
When you injure your back or begin experiencing any of these symptoms, it is essential to address the problem right away.
Whether you choose to seek conventional medical treatment or try one or more natural remedies, lower back pain is unlikely simply to get better on its own without intervention.
If your back pain is severe or lasts longer than a few days, you may decide to seek medical attention.
Your doctor will likely examine you and, depending on the nature of your injury, may also order images of your back.
X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and other tests can reveal the nature of your injury to assist with diagnosis.
A new type of scan is also available.
It is known as SPECT/CT, which stands for Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography, combined with Computed Tomography.
This scan shows promise in helping more accurately to diagnose the source of lower back pain.
Because the cause of lower back pain can be difficult to ascertain, doctors may prescribe different therapies or procedures to help.
A chiropractor treats back problems using manual adjustment or manipulation of the spine.
Chiropractic care has been shown to be equally effective as other conventional medical treatments at treating lower back pain (1).
Most people who see a chiropractor experience relief from pain.
A chiropractor will often want to see you several times per week to make the small adjustments needed to relieve your back pain.
If your insurance does not cover chiropractic care, this can be expensive.
Many doctors will prescribe physical therapy to assist with lower back pain.
Physical therapy uses a number of techniques to strengthen muscles and repair the damage that is causing your pain.
For those who begin physical therapy within two weeks of the onset of back pain, many find relief and no need to seek further medical care (2).
Physical therapy is specific to the patient and the injury, and your therapist will teach you the proper exercises for your back pain.
Therapists will design an exercise plan for you to use to strengthen your back further and avoid future injury, as well.
Physical therapy can be a useful tool for treating lower back pain.
There are segments of the population for whom traditional physical therapy is difficult.
Aquatic therapy is a good alternative for some, as it is a physical therapy that takes place in a pool.
Patients use the water for resistance, and this type of therapy exerts less pressure on the joints and other body parts.
Many who try aquatic therapy enjoy its gentle resistance, and it helps build strength when there was little to start.
Aquatic therapy is not recommended for those who cannot swim, and not all physical therapy facilities offer this option.
Osteopathic Manual Therapy
An osteopath is a doctor who treats patients through manipulation of the muscle tissues and bones.
They treat a variety of problems and examine the entire body, not just the injured area, in order to understand where pain originates.
Osteopathic Manual Therapy, or OMT, is similar to the manual manipulation a chiropractor uses, but it involves stretching, resistance, and the use of light pressure as well.
OMT is effective for many people at reducing lower back pain and has been shown to provide the same benefits as traditional chiropractic care and even pain medication for some patients (5).
When you have acute lower back pain, taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory can help your recovery.
Anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen sodium (Aleve, Naprosyn, Anaprox) and ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Nuprin) are very effective at helping to decrease inflammation and reduce pain for some injuries.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Panadol) is also effective at relieving pain.
These drugs are not long-term solutions for chronic lower back pain, as they have serious side effects at high doses and from prolonged use.
But they are wonderful for acute injuries and issues.
Check with your physician before taking any of these medications, as they may interact with your prescriptions, and should be avoided if you have certain medical conditions.
Prescription pain medication is not recommended for the long-term treatment of back pain.
For certain types of back pain, though, your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants or even antidepressants, which are useful for some patients (6).
Taking opioids or narcotics for chronic back pain can increase your risk of addiction or dependency on these drugs, so talk with your doctor about pain medications if they are prescribed to treat your pain.
If you do take prescription pain medication, be sure to take it only as prescribed, and to stop taking it as soon as you start to feel better.
To reduce the risk of dependence on you and others in your home, destroy all pain medication once you have taken what you need.
When your back pain is due to more specific issues with your skeletal system, pain injections may be a good option to help you cope with discomfort.
Pain injections can be given in different parts of your body, and results can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
Most pain injections include some type of steroid medication to reduce inflammation, and some also include an anesthetic to numb the area.
If your back pain is the result of problems with discs, nerve damage, or other chronic issues, talk with your doctor about your options for pain injections.
Some injections can serve as diagnostic tools, showing your doctor specifically from where your pain originates.
Pain injections come with risks and are not appropriate for all patients, so discuss them with your doctor.
More severe spinal problems may require extensive treatment, and even surgery or other invasive procedures to help alleviate pain.
This is usually the option of last resort for most patients, as spinal surgery comes with many risks and precautions.
Talk to you doctor if you think your back pain is severe enough to warrant surgical treatment.
Other Conventional Medical Advice
There are other aspects of your health that can be contributing to your lower back pain, and your doctor may recommend some of the following as a part of your lower back pain treatment.
If you smoke, your doctor will likely recommend that you quit helping your back pain. Smokers are at risk for osteoporosis and other bone issues.
Those with osteoporosis may experience back pain from compression fractures in the spine.
Smoking inhibits oxygen absorption in your body, making it harder for you to heal from injury, as well.
And those who smoke are more likely to experience chronic pain than non-smokers (7).
Your weight is another potential contributor to your lower back pain.
Being overweight adds pressure to your spine.
Extreme excess weight can actually change the curvature of the spine, resulting in lower back pain.
When you lose weight and tighten your core muscles, you help your spinal column to support your body’s weight properly and alleviate your pain.
Your doctor may recommend weight loss if your back pain is a result of this type of injury.
Natural Ways to Treat Lower Back Pain
If you have experienced an acute back injury or are having minor lower back pain, there are many ways you can treat this pain without seeking conventional medical care.
The following options are ways to treat your pain naturally.
Once your back is feeling better, you may also want to focus on prevention techniques so that you do not injure your back again.
The following includes 21 ways to treat and prevent your lower back pain naturally.
Heat and Cold
When you experience a lower back injury, icing the area is the best choice for the first two days.
Cold reduces the inflammation that is causing your pain. Ice the area for 20 minutes at a time several times a day.
After two days, you can switch to using heat in 20-minute intervals.
Ice reduces blood flow and minimizes swelling, which is what you want right after your injury.
Heat, on the other hand, increases blood flow and relaxes muscles, which is appropriate after reduction of the initial inflammation.
Avoid Excessive Rest
When you are in pain, your natural instinct may be to lie down or stay in bed.
This is not necessarily helpful for back pain.
When you stay immobile, you may actually feel more pain than if you are active.
And bed rest can also cause muscles to tighten, worsening the injury.
Take it easy, but try to go about your daily routine as normally as possible (8).
Stay Strong and Active
One of the best ways to prevent back injury, and to treat it once healing begins, is to exercise and keep your muscles strong.
One of the leading causes of lower back pain is inadequate muscle use.
When the core muscles that support your upper body are weak, you are more likely to injure your back because of how your body must compensate.
Try low-impact exercises like walking and swimming to strengthen your body.
Swimming is an excellent whole-body workout and is a great choice for those with back problems.
Daily exercise, even while you are recovering from a back problem, is important to keep your spine limber.
Once you have recovered, you can avoid future problems by strengthening the muscles that support the lower back, as well as the opposing muscles in your abdomen.
Having strong muscles in your torso and lower body will also help to support your spinal column, preventing future problems.
In short, stay active and strong, and you can avoid many of the lower back problems that plague so many people.
Regularly stretching the muscles in your back, hips, legs, and torso will go a long way toward keeping your back healthy.
Back pain can often be caused by too-tight hamstring muscles.
When these muscles, located in the back of your thighs, are overly stressed, it can put pressure on your sacroiliac joints and cause lower back pain.
Sitting slumped in a chair for long periods of time also contributes to lower back problems.
Get into the habit of stretching very well in the morning and at night, and if you work behind a computer or are sedentary most of the day, be sure to get up at least twice an hour and stretch your back and hips.
Stretching is as effective as yoga at helping relieve back pain (9).
Yoga is a very effective therapy for treating lower back pain, as well as for preventing future problems.
Those who practice yoga regularly are less likely to experience lower back pain, too.
Some excellent yoga moves for back pain include the two-knee twist, pigeon pose, legs up the wall, sphinx, and the supine hamstring stretch.
Similar to yoga, Pilates is a form of exercise that uses the body’s weight as resistance to build strength, flexibility, coordination, balance, and muscular endurance.
Get Regular Massages
If your back pain is the result of tight muscles, regular massage can help alleviate it (13).
Weekly massage sessions can significantly improve pain levels for those with chronic lower back pain.
The type of massage is not as important as getting it regularly to relax the affected muscles.
Acupuncture, a medical practice that originated in ancient China, treats many different problems by inserting multiple very fine needles at specific points on your body.
Many who try acupuncture for lower back pain find immediate relief.
Acupuncture is as effective as more-traditional treatments at addressing lower back pain, and when it is combined with other Chinese therapies, such as cupping and acupressure, it can provide even better results (14).
Target Pressure Points
Acupressure targets specific points on your body.
Pressure is applied to these points, reducing tension in your muscles and relieving pain.
You can learn the acupressure points yourself and try them at home.
Many people use tennis balls to target acupressure points to relieve lower back pain.
Consider Soft Tissue Therapy
Similar to chiropractic care or osteopathic manipulation, this type of therapy uses manual manipulation of your body to relieve pain.
Instead of focusing on joints and bones, though, soft tissue therapy uses a hands-on approach to relieve pain by activating muscles that are not being used.
Soft tissue therapy is used to treat poor posture, weakened muscles, and muscles that are compensating for other weakened ones.
Examples of techniques common in soft tissue therapy are active release, the Graston technique, dry needling, and neurokinetic therapy.
Do Tai Chi
Tai Chi is a slow-moving form of martial arts.
Those who practice it regularly develop strength and balance, much like those who practice with yoga.
Tai Chi can also be used to treat lower back pain, and doing it just twice a week can significantly reduce lower back pain in ten weeks (15).
Watch Your Posture
Sitting for long periods of time can negatively impact many different parts of your body, particularly your back.
If you sit for a large portion of your day, make sure you are using proper posture to minimize your risk of back pain from sitting for prolonged periods.
Slumping or slouching means your back is not working properly to support your weight.
Sit straight so your vertebrae stack on top of each other.
Place your feet flat on your floor.
Be sure you don’t have to lean to reach your keyboard or other items you access regularly.
The Alexander technique is a form of physical therapy that teaches you how to adjust your posture during various activities to alleviate stress and muscle tension.
Those who learn the technique and practice it regularly see a long-term reduction in their lower back pain (16).
The Egoscue method is another form of posture therapy.
It involves holding static poses to stretch various muscles in your torso and legs.
This is a great technique to learn to maintain good back health one you have recovered from your pain, as well.
Reduce Your Stress
When you are stressed, your muscles are tense and ready to spring into action.
Those who experience chronic stress or who are not coping with daily stress are more likely to suffer from lower back pain.
If you are stressed, consider seeking professional help to manage your stress and lead a healthier life.
Learning to cope with your stress will not only help your mental health but will help with lower back pain, too.
Talk to Someone
For those who suffer from chronic back pain, talking with a therapist or engaging in group therapy may help.
Using cognitive behavioral therapy, pain sufferers can learn to solve the problems related to their pain by changing their thoughts and actions.
Those who used this type of therapy found great success in reducing or eliminating their lower back pain (18).
Meditation is a powerful tool for many reasons, but it has been shown to help reduce lower back pain effectively.
Sitting in a meditative pose may not be the best choice if you have lower back pain, though, so be sure to modify your sitting pose to reap the full benefits of your meditation sessions.
Sit on a pillow or cushion to alleviate pressure on your hips, sit in a chair, or lie on the floor, if you prefer.
Make sure you are not in pain while meditating, as this can detract from your practice.
Biofeedback teaches you to recognize various stressors within your body and modify your response to them.
So, when your body is feeling pain, biofeedback teaches you how to decrease the sensations.
While this will not eliminate the source of your pain, biofeedback can be quite helpful for those who suffer from chronic pain.
Consider Herbal Remedies
There are a number of effective anti-inflammatory herbal remedies that are good for lower back pain.
Drinking tea brewed from ginger root, a natural anti-inflammatory, can help alleviate lower back pain.
Capsaicin gels and creams can reduce pain in a localized area.
Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chilies that makes them hot.
Ointments or gels containing arnica gel or comfrey root can be effective at reducing aches and pains associated with lower back problems (21).
These herbal remedies often have few side effects and are safe to use for short periods to treat acute pain.
Watch Your Ergonomics
Your workspace should be designed to help you maintain good posture, to reduce stress on your back and neck, and to help you feel comfortable while you are working.
Make adjustments to your desk, chair, and computer to alleviate any pressure on your spine, neck, and hips that could be causing lower back pain.
Examine your Shoes and Bags
Wearing high heels increases pressure on your lower spine and creates an unstable posture that can cause pain and even injury.
Wear heels that are less than one inch in height to ensure you do not injure your back or create pain.
If you carry a heavy bag regularly, you could be causing stress to your back.
Any bag that weighs more than 10% of your body weight is too heavy.
Always carry any weight with a bag across your body, like a messenger bag.
Eat to Decrease Inflammation
If inflammation is the cause of your lower back pain, you might consider changing what you eat to decrease the inflammatory foods in your diet.
Eating a healthy diet can help you reduce your weight, which will also help with lower back pain problems and pain.
Foods rich in anti-inflammatories include salmon, ginger, almonds, turmeric, and tart cherries.
Be sure to get sufficient omega-3 fats from flaxseed, wild-caught fish, and other sources.
Potassium is excellent for reducing swelling and promoting healthy muscles and nerves, so make sure you are eating plenty of bananas, avocados, and leafy greens, and drinking coconut water.
Be sure to eat enough fiber to avoid constipation, which can make back pain worse, too.
And drink plenty of water to keep your muscles and joints hydrated, which will also help relieve back pain.
Get Good Sleep
When you are in pain, you may have trouble sleeping.
But chronically inadequate sleep can worsen your pain, too. If you are in pain, be sure you are getting adequate rest.
If you are not sleeping properly, consider making changes to your sleeping position, your pillow, or even your mattress.
While there is no hard and fast rule about mattress firmness, most people experience higher comfort on a medium-firm mattress rather than ultra-stiff or super-soft versions.
You should replace any mattress that is older than six to eight years.
A bad mattress may be the cause of your pain or, at the very least, making you feel worse.
When to See a Doctor
Not all back injuries require medical care, but there are some instances where a trip to the doctor may be necessary.
Call your doctor if your back pain is very severe, limiting your ability to care for yourself, or if it hurts even when you are resting.
If your pain lasts longer than a few days, call your doctor.
Numbness and weakness in your legs are a sign of a larger medical problem, as is having troubling walking or standing.
Seek help immediately if you have these or other extreme symptoms beyond minor back pain.
When trying new exercises or therapies and you have other medical conditions, you always want to check with your doctor.
Depending on your injury or the source of your pain, some therapies may exacerbate your pain, so ask your doctor if you are in doubt.
The suggestions in this guide are recommended for those with acute back pain due to muscle strain or other minor injuries.
If you find you are not able to reduce your pain effectively on your own over a period of a week to ten days, consult your doctor for alternative treatments.
Lower back pain can be slow to heal, so give it time, but don’t wait until you are miserable to seek medical attention.