Did you know back pain is one of the most common medical problems in the world? Over 80% of people suffer from it at some point or the other. And, in most cases, the daily grind is responsible for your aching back – repeated activities that involve carrying or lifting things or even sitting in front of a computer without a break can cause muscle tightness and tension that leads to a backache. In some cases, back pain is the result of a medical condition such as a slipped disc or sciatica. These usually mean additional symptoms like numbness, a tingling sensation, or weakness.
Seek medical help if your backache is caused by an underlying medical issue or injury. You also need a doctor’s opinion if your pain doesn’t get better in a few weeks, is intense, or is worsening.1 2 Fortunately, there are many natural or alternative remedies that can help ease back pain when it strikes. Soothe your aching back with these:
1. Use Hot Or Cold Packs To Ease Pain
This is an easy remedy that you can try at home to tackle your backache. Apply a hot water bottle to the affected area to alleviate the pain when your back starts hurting. Using a cold pack can also help. But take care not to apply ice directly on the skin as you might get a cold burn. Wrap the ice pack in a washcloth before you use it. Some people also find that alternating between an ice pack and a hot water bottle eases pain. Go with what works for you – there are no hard and fast rules!
2. Use Turmeric Or Willow Bark As Natural Pain Killers
Herbs like turmeric and willow bark may serve well as painkillers if your back’s killing you.3
Turmeric: Curcumin, an antioxidant present in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory properties and can help with pain relief. Turmeric extracts are available as powders, capsules, and tinctures. You can also brew yourself a nice hot cup of turmeric tea. Leverage its anti-inflammatory goodness by adding this spice to your everyday cooking, adding about a tablespoon to your soups, stews, or curries. Do keep in mind though that turmeric can increase bleeding and might not be suitable if you’re taking blood thinners.4 5
Willow Bark: This plant has been used traditionally for thousands of years, across the world, for dealing with pain. It contains pain-relieving salicin as well as anti-inflammatory flavonoids that can ease your back pain. It can be taken as a capsule, tincture, or tea. However, like turmeric, it too might increase bleeding and should not be taken with blood thinning medication or aspirin. It is also not recommended for children below the age of 18 as it might increase the risk of Reye’s syndrome.6
3. Get A Backrub With Medicated Ayurvedic Oil
Ayurveda recommends getting a backrub with mahanarayana taila, which is a medicinal formulation containing sesame oil, milk, and a multitude of beneficial herbs like bilva, ashwagandha, brihati, and shatavari. According to ayurveda, if you have a vata or pitta body type, you should lightly rub the oil over the affected area. Those with a kapha body type should get a deeper massage.7
4. Apply Ginger Paste And Follow Up With A Eucalyptus Oil Backrub
Here’s another remedy for back pain rooted in the ancient science of ayurveda. Mix a little ginger powder and water to make a paste. Apply this paste to the affected area and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes before washing it off. Now rub on some eucalyptus oil.8 It is worth noting that both ginger and eucalyptus oil have anti-inflammatory properties and are known for providing pain relief.9 10 11
5. Try These Exercises To Reduce Back Pain
Certain exercises can strengthen, stretch, and mobilize your lower back and help reduce stiffness, soreness, and tension. Turn the exercises below into a daily routine. However, do start out gently and stop if you feel the pain is worsening.
The Stretch: Bottom To Heel
Kneel on your hands and knees, placing your hands beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips.Now gradually move the bottom backward, making sure the natural curve of our spine is maintained.Hold this position for the space of one deep breath and go back to your starting position.Repeat the exercise 8–10 times.
The Knee Roll
Lie down on your back with a book or flat cushion beneath your head.Your knees should be bent and close together, your chin lightly tucked in, and the upper body relaxed.Now roll the knees and then your pelvis to the left so that the knee on that side touches the floor.Make sure both your shoulders are still touching the floor.Hold this position for the space of a deep breath and then go back to the starting position.Repeat the exercise 8–10 times and make sure you roll your knees alternately to the left and right side.
The Back Extension
Lie down on your abdomen and use your elbows to prop yourself up.Arch your back gently – you’ll feel your stomach muscles stretch a little as you do this.Hold this position for 5–10 seconds before going back to the starting position.Make sure your neck doesn’t arch backward and that your hips remain grounded when you do this exercise.Repeat this exercise 8–10 times.
The Abdomen Strengthening Exercise
Lie down on your back with a book or flat cushion beneath your head.Bend the knees and make sure your feet are placed hip-width apart.Now breathe out and, as you do so, pull up the muscles in your lower abdomen and pelvis. Remember, this is meant to gently tighten your lower stomach. So don’t use more than 25% of your strength or tense your shoulders, neck, or legs while doing it.Breathe from your abdomen and hold this position for the space of 5–10 breaths.Repeat this exercise 5 times.
Doing this regularly will make your supporting muscles around your spine stronger.
The Pelvic Tilt
Lie down on your back with a book or flat cushion beneath your head.Bend the knees and make sure your feet are placed hip-width apart.Now tighten your abdominal muscles and flatten your lower back to the floor.Then tilt the pelvis in the direction of your heels.Your lower back should arch slightly and you should feel the muscles in your back tightening. Make sure you don’t press down with your feet, shoulders, or neck.Repeat this exercise 10–15 times, slowly rocking your pelvis back and forth.
This exercise is meant to strengthen and stretch your lower back.12
6. Try Acupuncture To Relieve Chronic Pain
Several studies have found acupuncture to be effective at relieving chronic back pain. Acupuncture is a practice that comes from traditional Chinese medicine. According to ancient Chinese wisdom, your life force or Qi flows through your body along pathways known as meridians, and an imbalance or blockage in this flow of energy causes disease. Acupuncture aims to correct imbalances in this energy by stimulating specific body points by inserting fine needles. Several meridians like the bladder, kidney, gallbladder, and liver affect your back and your acupuncturist will select appropriate body points for treating your back pain.13 14 Make sure you go to a credible and experienced acupuncturist for treatment.
7. Adopt A Yoga Regimen That Targets Back Pain
Yoga is a mind–body practice that has been found to reduce functional disability, pain, and the use of pain medication in people with back pain. One study found that even a short but intense 7-day yoga course which included breathing exercises (pranayamas), physical postures (asanas), meditation, and a teaching of the concepts of yoga was able to improve spinal flexibility and reduce pain-related disability in people suffering from chronic lower back pain.15
Though there are many schools of yoga which may offer beneficial techniques for dealing with back pain, several studies have found Iyengar Yoga therapy to be particularly effective. Your yoga instructor may start off by performing an initial examination to identify problems with spinal alignment, gait, or posture. You may then be introduced to passive postures to relieve pain, followed by supportive postures which call for more active stretching. As your back pain lessens and your strength, flexibility, and postural alignment get better, your instructor may introduce postures that challenge your back more.16 17 Practicing pranayama or deep breathing, especially anulom vilom or alternate nose breathing, can also help tackle the vata dosha responsible for back pain.
8. Get Spinal Adjustments Through Chiropractic Treatment
Chiropractic treatment manipulates your body structure, mainly the spine, for relieving pain. This has been found to effective at dealing with back pain. One study observed that over a 2-year period people with back pain who received chiropractic treatment improved 7% more than those who received hospital outpatient treatment. However, do keep in mind that this treatment works for those whose back pain is mechanical in origin. It’s not recommended in cases where a nerve root is affected.18
9. Explore Massage Therapy
Massage therapy is another option that you might want to consider if you have back pain. One study found that people with lower back pain who have 30-minute long massage sessions twice a week for five weeks experienced relief from pain and improved their trunk range of motion. But that’s not all. They also reported lower anxiety, depression, and improved sleep.19 Ayurveda also recommends abhyanga (massage therapy) with medicated oils to relieve back pain.
10. Improve Your Posture
Improving your posture can lessen muscle tension and help with your backache. If you have good posture that means that the bones in your spine are aligned correctly. Here are a couple of exercises that can help you correct your posture:
The Imagery Exercise
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 during this exercise. This means that:
The natural curve of your spine will be maintained with your shoulders level with your hips and your neck straight.Your shoulders will be relaxed and held back.Your abdomen will be pulled in.Your feet will be apart by the distance of your hip.Your weight will be balanced on both your feet evenly.Your head will not be tilted to the side, front, or back.Your legs will be straight and your knees relaxed.
The Shoulder Squeeze
Place your hands on your thighs and sit straight in a chair. Gently draw back your shoulders and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Hold this position till you count to 5 and then relax your shoulders. Repeat the exercise 3–4 times.