If you are one of the 31 million Americans who suffer from low back pain at any given time then you are no stranger to the suffering and inconvenience that it can bring.
Low back pain is the number one reason for missed work days and it often causes people to miss out on important social events, travel, and special occasions.
It is no wonder then that those who struggle with this debilitating condition are constantly looking for new, and effective ways, to manage their pain.
Moving Away From Medications For Chronic Back Pain
NSAIDs and opioids have been two of the top classes of medication that healthcare professionals tend to recommend for treating low back pain, but these medications don’t come without their side effects and drawbacks.
The National Institute Of Neurological Disorders And Stroke define chronic back pain as "pain that continues for 12 weeks or longer, even after an initial injury or underlying cause of acute low back pain has been treated”. Their research shows that “about 20 percent of people affected by acute low back pain develop chronic low back pain with persistent symptoms at one year”.
This persistence of symptoms, along with the increasing side effects that occur with extended use of certain medications, has many looking for more natural alternatives to help manage their pain.
The good news is that the chronic back pain industry is thriving with new products as well as new research on the effectiveness of some tried and trusted methods for pain management.
Here are some of the top 5 natural remedies for lower back pain.
1. Anti-Inflammatory Drinks
The smoothie industry started taking the world by storm in the '80s and it is showing no signs of slowing down. Now research is showing that some key ingredients in some smoothies can help reduce symptoms associated with low back pain.
Many of the fruits and vegetables found in many smoothies contain high levels of anti-oxidants. Regular consumption of anti-oxidants can lead to significant decreases in inflammation in the body, reducing some of the negative effects of inflammation such as pain.
Here are some of the ingredients with the highest levels of anti-inflammatories.
Turmeric is an Asian spice that is high in anti-oxidants and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic properties. “Golden Milk” has been trending in health circles either as a ready-to-purchase product, or as a powder that can be added to regular milk.
Traditionally turmeric is added to either cow’s milk or plant-based milks, along with other spices such as cinnamon or ginger. There are many health benefits for turmeric and for turmeric milk, including helping to relieve low back pain:
Key ingredients are packed with antioxidants.
Can help reduce joint pain and inflammation.
Improves memory and brain function.
Curcumin (found in turmeric) can help improve mood.
May lower blood sugar levels.
May reduce your risk of cancer.
May protect against Heart Disease.
You can purchase a ready-made turmeric milk drink, buy just the powder to add to your own milk, or you can make your own home blend by adding half a teaspoon of turmeric spice to a glass of warm milk.
The best time to drink this is right before bed as it can also help with sleep and then it can work its anti-inflammatory magic while you sleep.
It is important to note, however, that some research has shown that turmeric may interact with medications such as warfarin, and may increase the possibility of bleeding.
If you take any medications it is a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before starting to add any new supplements to your diet.
Cherries are a fruit that have abundant anti-inflammatories and can help to relieve both chronic and acute muscle pain. You can easily purchase cherry juice from grocery stores - just make sure you look for drinks that contain tart cherry extract, and not artificial flavors.
Drinking a glass of cherry juice each day can have wonderful effects on lower back pain. Cherry juice has no known interactions with medications such as blood thinners or statins so they are a good alternative to turmeric milk.
If you are on medications it is always a good idea to check with your healthcare provider, as even things like grapefruit juice can have interactions with medications.
Ginger Green Tea
Another anti-inflammatory drink that is rising in popularity is Ginger Green Tea. Green tea has long been praised for its health benefits ranging from helping improve digestion to helping to regulate your body temperature. It is known to have high levels of anti-oxidants.
Ginger has been used through the ages to help reduce nausea for patients going through chemotherapy, pregnancy, post-surgery, and it can help to relieve motion sickness. Ginger green tea is another great drink that contains high levels of anti-oxidants which help reduce inflammation in the body.
It comes as no surprise, then, that these two powerhouses have joined forces to pack a powerful punch in terms of reducing pain and inflammation in the body.
It is important to note that too much ginger can cause heartburn, diarrhea, and in extreme cases even irregular heartbeats. Consuming ginger as a tea is, however, a very safe form of use and there is no research to show that ginger green tea is harmful.
Typically the risk of taking too much ginger occurs when the ginger comes in the form of diet pills which can have unregulated and very high concentrations.
Ginger green tea bags can be found in most grocery stores and a cup a day can have some amazing health benefits beyond just reducing inflammation and pain.
2. Getting A Good Night’s Sleep
Sleep is one of the most underutilized and underrated ways of treating almost any health condition. Sleep is one of the best ways that you can boost your immune system and help prevent a range of health conditions.
When you have a good night’s rest, your brain is able to scan your body for issues that may have arisen during the day.
For overworked or injured muscles, sleep gives the brain time to trigger the release of hormones that encourage tissue growth to repair damaged blood vessels. This helps wounds to heal faster and also restores sore or damaged muscles.
Unfortunately, when you are suffering from chronic pain it can be difficult to both fall asleep, and stay asleep. This can create a chronic pain cycle as a lack of sleep can then make us more sensitive to pain.
Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to restoring the body and helping restore muscles as well as experiencing less pain during the day. If you are struggling to fall asleep then here are some natural sleep remedies that might be able to help:
Melatonin is one of the most popular and well known supplements to assist with sleep. It is a natural sleep hormone, but things like blue light and stress can interfere with your body’s production of it. Melatonin is often helpful for both falling asleep and getting into a deeper sleep.
Some studies have shown that supplements made from the root of the valerian plant can help improve people’s quality of sleep without any negative side effects.
Unfortunately the National Institute Of Health has found that this evidence is somewhat inconclusive and believe that further studies are needed to confirm the effectiveness and safety of this product. may help you sleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Vitamins C and B6
Vitamins C and B6 have been shown to help with the production and regulation of these naturally occurring hormones. You can take these vitamins in the form of supplements or add certain foods such as fruits and vegetables to your diet.
An amino acid found in tea leaves, L-theanine is believed to help with improving mental function, as well as helping to reduce stress and anxiety. Drinking tea may help some people feel relaxed and get better sleep.
Meditation is one of the best ways to reduce stress and decrease anxiety. When we engage in meditation you train your body to change the way it perceives pain and you can release endorphins, our natural pain-fighting, feel good hormones.
If you are new to meditation it can seem a little strange and intimidating at first. We often conjure up images of Tibetan monks and feel like that is something that we probably can’t ever do properly.
Meditation is, however, easier than it might appear - although it does take a little practice. Meditation is basically the practice of focusing your mind on the present, and in being in the moment, rather than worrying about the future or what is going on around you.
One of the easiest ways to start practicing meditation is the body scan. The body scan is especially good for those with chronic pain conditions, such as chronic lower back pain.
While stress reduction expert Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends doing the body scan for 45 minutes each day, this can seem a little daunting, and you may need time to build up to that length of practice.
YouTube is a great place to find different versions of the body scan, ranging from as little as 10 minute to as long as an hour. The body scan will take you through each part of your body, from your feet to your head and will help you to focus on each body part and mindfully relax that part of your body.
We find it helpful to do it at night before going to bed because not only are you not rushed, but you are already lying down in a dark room and you will have minimal distractions. If you are like us, there is also a really good chance you might be so relaxed that you fall asleep before you get to the end of the exercise!
Biofeedback is a newer mind-body technique that uses auditory or visual feedback to help train people to recognize the physical symptoms of anxiety and stress. These symptoms include things like an increased heart rate, tense muscles, or raised body temperature.
During a biofeedback session a particular part of your body is connected to special electrical sensors (EMG - electromyographic sensors) that can read information from your body in the form of electrical impulses.
Surface EMG is a non-invasive way to monitor the tension that occurs in muscle groups using special surface electrodes.
When your muscles contract they generate electrical signals that can then be picked up by these electrodes. This electrical feedback is then used to help you make changes in your body, such as learning how to relax tense muscles, in order to reduce pain.
Research has shown that there is a significant difference in the EMG activity between those with back pain, and those without.
EMG has typically been reserved for use in hospitals and clinics due to the challenging nature of ensuring correct placement of the electrodes, and interpreting the data.
Special training is required - much like learning how to read and ECG. There are some devices on the market that are trying to address these issues and make EMG biofeedback more available to consumers.
5. Strengthening Your Core
Your abdominal muscles play a crucial role in helping to prevent low back pain. Core strengthening is so much more than just having a Captain America six-pack. The core muscles in your body act as the scaffolding that helps to keep your spine in proper alignment and helps to prevent unnecessary strain on other muscles.
Weak abdominal muscles are a key underlying cause of lower back pain. When these muscles are not strong enough then other muscles that support your spine (like your back muscles) have to get more involved, which places unnecessary stress on them. This makes you more prone to back injuries and low back pain.
Strong core muscles can help prevent lower back pain and help to support your body in the correct way.
The good news is that while a six-pack might require hours at the gym and a strict diet regimen, having decent abs that can support your spine isn’t that hard.
There are loads of simple exercises that can be done in less than 30 minutes each day that can have major benefits for your body. See our blog on the best exercises for low back pain for some specific examples.
Exercises such as the bird dog or planking are relatively simple. If you are just getting started, simply sitting on an exercise ball for 20 minutes can go a long way to starting to fire up those abs!
With chronic lower back pain being such a big issue for so many, it is important to explore many different types of treatments for this condition.
While rest and medications were typically recommended in the past, current international guidelines have moved away from medications like opioids and are embracing more natural ways to manage this chronic condition.