15 Remedies for Back Pain Relief

back pain
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Back pain is a health concern for most people in the United States at some point in their lives and one of the most common reasons people miss work or visit the doctor.

Here is a glance at 15 popular natural remedies for back pain relief. Although further research is needed before any of these remedies can be recommended as a standard treatment for back pain, some of them may offer relief for mild to moderate back pain, particularly when part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

1) Acupuncture

A 2008 study published in Spine found "strong evidence that acupuncture can be a useful supplement to other forms of conventional therapy" for low back pain. After analyzing 23 clinical trials with a total of 6,359 patients, the study authors also found "moderate evidence that acupuncture is more effective than no treatment" in relief of back pain. The authors note that more research is needed before acupuncture can be recommended over conventional therapies for back pain.

Just how does acupuncture work? According to traditional Chinese medicine, pain results from blocked energy along energy pathways of the body, which are unblocked when acupuncture needles are inserted along these invisible pathways. Acupuncture may release natural pain-relieving opioids, send signals to the sympathetic nervous system, and release neurochemicals and hormones.

If you want to try acupuncture, plan on going one to three times a week for several weeks initially.

Acupuncture may be tax-deductible as a medical expense and some insurance plans pay for acupuncture.

See Also: Using Acupuncture to Help Relieve Chronic Pain | Sciatica - Causes, Symptoms, and Natural Treatments | What is Trigger Point Therapy?

2) Massage Therapy

In a 2009 research review published in Spine, researchers reviewed 13 clinical trials on the use of massage in treatment of back pain.

The study authors concluded that massage "might be beneficial for patients with subacute and chronic nonspecific low back pain, especially when combined with exercises and education." Noting that more research is needed to confirm this conclusion, the authors call for further studies that might help determine whether massage is a cost-effective treatment for low back pain.

Massage therapy may also alleviate anxiety and depression associated with chronic pain. It is the most popular natural therapy for low back pain during pregnancy.

More: Can Massage Help Ease Back Pain? | Massage for Neck and Back Pain | Deep Tissue Massage | Get the most out of a Pregnancy Massage

3) Chiropractic

Back pain is one of most common reasons people visit a chiropractor. Doctors of chiropractic use chiropractic spinal manipulation to restore joint mobility. They manually apply a controlled force to joints that have become restricted by muscle injury, strain, inflammation, and pain. Manipulation is believed to relieve pain and muscle tightness and encourage healing.

Chiropractic care involving spinal manipulation appears to reduce symptoms and improve function in patients with chronic low back pain, acute low back pain, and sub-acute low back pain, according to a research review published in the Journal of Manipulative Physiological Therapeutics. In their analysis of 887 documents (including 64 clinical trials), the review's authors concluded that combining chiropractic care with exercise is "likely to speed and improve outcomes" and protect against future episodes of back pain.

4) Capsaicin Cream

Although you may not have heard of capsaicin before, if you've ever eaten a chili pepper and felt your mouth burn, you know exactly what capsaicin does. Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers.

When it is applied to the skin, capsaicin has been found to deplete substance P - a neurochemical that transmits pain - causing an analgesic effect.

For a 2011 research review published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, investigators sized up the available research on the use of topically applied capsaicin in treatment of several types of chronic pain. This included two clinical trials on back pain, both of which found that capsaicin helped reduce low back pain without causing notable side effects.

Capsaicin cream, also called capsicum cream, is available in drug stores, health food stores, and online. A typical dosage is 0.025% capsaicin cream applied four times a day. The most common side effect is a stinging or burning sensation in the area.

If possible, wear disposable gloves (available at drugstores) before applying the cream. Be careful not to touch the eye area or open skin. A tube or jar of capsaicin cream typically costs between $8 and $25.

More: Can Capsaicin Relieve Low Back Pain? | What to Know Before Using Capsaicin Cream

5) Vitamin D

Chronic muscle pain can be a symptom of vitamin D deficiency. What's more, some research suggests that treatment with vitamin D supplements may lead to clinical improvement in back pain symptoms among people with low initial concentrations of vitamin D, according to a 2005 report published in the British Medical Journal.

An essential nutrient available in certain foods (such as fortified milk and fish with small bones), vitamin D is produced naturally by the body during exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays.

But since it's difficult to obtain your recommended daily intake of D solely through dietary sources and sun exposure, many medical experts recommend increasing your vitamin D levels by taking a dietary supplement.

See Also: What You Need to Know About Vitamin D | Can Vitamin D Help With Weight Loss?

6) Anti-Inflammatory Herbs

Since inflammation is thought to play a role in the development of back pain, certain herbs thought to have anti-inflammatory effects may be useful for back pain relief.

White willow bark for instance, may have pain-relieving properties similar to aspirin. Known as salicin, a compound found in white willow bark is converted in the body to salicylic acid. (Similarly, aspirin is also converted to salicylic acid once in the body.) Salicylic acid is believed to be the active compound that relieves pain and inflammation.

Another herb sometimes used in treatment of back pain is devil's claw.

Devil's claw contains harpagosides, which are chemical compounds found to possess anti-inflammatory properties.

In a 2007 research review published in Spine, both white willow bark and devil's claw were found to reduce pain more effectively than placebo. Since many of the trials included in the review were of poor quality, the review's authors call for further trials testing the use of these herbs against standard treatments for low back pain.

MORE: Using Devil's Claw | More About White Willow Bark6 Herbs with Pain Relief Properties | 4 Ways to Fight Inflammation Naturally

7) Magnesium

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. Involved in over 300 biochemical reactions, it helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system, and preserves bones strength. Magnesium also helps regulate blood sugar levels, promotes normal blood pressure, and is known to be involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis.

Published in the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, a 2001 study of 82 patients with chronic low back pain found that use of mineral supplements was associated with a reduction in pain symptoms in 76 participants. In addition, the supplements were found to increase intracellular magnesium levels by 11 percent.

More: Anti-Inflammatory Diet

8) Yoga

Yoga creates balance in the body through various poses that develop flexibility and strength.

There's some evidence that taking up a yoga practice may help relieve back pain.

For a 2011 research review published in Clinical Rheumatology, investigators looked at seven clinical trials that tested the effects of yoga in patients in with low back pain. Of those studies, five suggested that yoga leads to a significantly greater reduction in low back pain than usual care, education, or conventional therapeutic exercises. However, the other two studies showed that yoga was no more effective than other types of care for low back pain.

In a 2008 report published in Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine, researchers found that yoga may be helpful in managing low back pain, but note that patients should consult their health care providers for help in finding yoga instructors with experience in working with people with low back pain.

More: Yoga for Back Pain Relief | Health Benefits of Iyengar Yoga

9) Vitamin B12

A study published in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences in 2000 examined the safety and effectiveness of vitamin B12 injections for low back pain. Involving 60 patients, the study found that those who received vitamin B12 injections experienced a statistically significant reduction in pain and disability. They also used less pain medication than those who received a placebo.

Besides pain, other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are numbness and tingling, irritability, mild memory impairment, and depression. Risk factors for vitamin B12 deficiency are:

  • pernicious anemia
  • use of certain medications (including stomach acid-blocking medications)
  • inadequate intake of meat or dairy products
  • infection (such as small intestine bacterial overgrowth, parasites)
  • digestive diseases (including celiac disease and Crohn's disease)

Vitamin B12 muscle injections are the standard treatment for vitamin B12 deficiency. Studies have found that vitamin B12 sublingual tablets (placed under the tongue for absorption) and nasal gel are also effective.

More: Vitamin B12: What You Need to Know | B Complex Vitamins 

10) Alexander Technique

Alexander Technique is a type of therapy that teaches people to improve their posture and eliminate bad habits such as slouching, which can lead to pain, muscle tension, and decreased mobility.

There is strong scientific support for the effectiveness of Alexander Technique lessons in treatment of chronic back pain, according to a research review published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice in 2012.

The review included one well-designed, well-conducted clinical trial demonstrating that Alexander Technique lessons led to significant long-term reductions in back pain and incapacity caused by chronic back pain. These results were broadly supported by a smaller, earlier clinical trial testing the use of Alexander Technique lessons in treatment of chronic back pain.

You can learn Alexander technique in private sessions or group classes. A typical session lasts about 45 minutes. During that time, the instructor notes the way you carry yourself and coaches you with verbal instruction and gentle touch.

Learn more about the Alexander Technique.

11) Hypnotherapy

Also referred to as "hypnosis," hypnotherapy is a mind-body technique that involves entering a trance-like state of deep relaxation and concentration. When undergoing hypnotherapy, patients are thought to be more open to suggestion. As such, hypnotherapy is often used to effect change in behaviors thought to contribute to health problems (including chronic pain).

Preliminary research suggests that hypnotherapy may be of some use in treatment of low back pain. For instance, a pilot study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis found that a four-session hypnosis program (combined with a psychological education program) significantly reduced pain intensity and led to improvements in mood among patients with chronic low back pain.

More: Hypnosis for Sleep Problems | Can Hypnosis Help With Weight Loss? | Hypnosis to Ease Anxiety

12) Balneotherapy

One of the oldest therapies for pain relief, balneotherapy is a form of hydrotherapy that involves bathing in mineral water or warm water.

For a 2006 report published in Rheumatology, investigators analyzed the available research on the use of balneotherapy in treatment of low back pain. Looking at five clinical trial, the report's authors found "encouraging evidence" suggesting that balneotherapy may be effective for treating patients with low back pain. Noting that supporting data are scarce, the authors call for larger-scale trials on balneotherapy and low back pain.

Dead Sea salts and other sulfur-containing bath salts can be found in spas, health food stores, and online. However, people with heart conditions should not use balneotherapy unless under the supervision of their primary care provider.

See Also: Balneotherapy to Relieve Pain? | Health Benefits of SulfurThalassotherapy - What You Should Know About It

13) Meditation

An ancient mind-body practice, meditation has been found to increase pain tolerance and promote management of chronic pain in a number of small studies. In addition, a number of preliminary studies have focused specifically on the use of meditation in management of low back pain. A 2008 study published in Pain, for example, found that an eight-week meditation program led to an improvement of pain acceptance and physical function in patients with chronic low back pain. The study included 37 older adults, with members meditating an average of 4.3 days a week for an average of 31.6 minutes a day.

Although it's not known how meditation might help relieve pain, it's thought that the practice's ability to induce physical and mental relaxation may help keep chronic stress from aggravating chronic pain conditions.

One of the most commonly practiced and well-studied forms of meditation is mindfulness meditation.

More: Health Benefits of Meditation for Pain Relief | Meditation for Less Stress? | Get Started with Mindfulness Meditation | Can Meditation Help You Sleep Better?

14) Tai Chi

Tai chi is an ancient martial art that involves slow, graceful movements and incorporates meditation and deep breathing. Thought to reduce stress, tai chi has been found to benefit people with chronic pain in a number of small studies.

Although research on the use of tai chi in treatment of back pain is somewhat limited, there's some evidence that practicing tai chi may help alleviate back pain to some degree. The available science includes a 2011 study published in Arthritis Care & Research, which found that a 10-week tai chi program reduced pain and improved functioning in people with long-term low back pain symptoms. The study involved 160 adults with chronic low back pain, half of whom participated in 40-minute-long tai chi sessions 18 times over the 10-week period.

See Also: Tai Chi | Tai Chi for Arthritis

15) Music Therapy

Music therapy is a low-cost natural therapy that may reduce some of the stress of chronic pain in conjunction with other treatment. Studies find that it may reduce the disability, anxiety, and depression associated with chronic pain.

A 2005 study published in Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine evaluated the influence of music therapy in hospitalized patients with chronic back pain. Researchers randomized 65 patients to receive, on alternate months, physical therapy plus four music therapy sessions or physical therapy alone and found that music significantly reduced disability, anxiety, and depression. Learn more about music therapy and find out the 6 health benefits you may not know about.

Other natural therapies:

Using Natural Remedieo for Back Pain

If you're considering using alternative medicine for back pain, talk with your doctor first. It's important to note that self-treating with alternative medicine and avoiding or delaying standard care may be harmful tp your health.

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Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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