Low back pain can strike at any time. Just a simple twist too far to the left, or a sudden twinge as you bend down. Even a simple sneeze can spell bad news for your back. The good news is that most cases of low back pain are acute and will resolve by themselves within a few weeks. But some people suffer from frequent recurrent episodes of low back pain, or their bodies simply take longer to heal.
Depending on your specific condition it is always a good idea to check with your healthcare provider to rule out anything more serious. If this isn’t a new thing for you, though, and you are looking for ways to help your healing along at home, then you might want to keep reading to see some of the top home remedies for low back pain.
Heat pads are a great place to start since they require very little effort, have no side effects, and are fairly inexpensive. If you are looking for some ideas on which ones to purchase, check out our blog on the best gifts for people with low back pain. Depending on how your muscles are feeling, heat pads are great for relaxing stiff, tight muscles and reducing inflammation. When applied to the muscles, heat therapy is great for boosting circulation which sends nutrients and oxygen to the sore muscles. Improving your circulation is important for repairing damaged muscles. If you don’t have a heat pad handy, then almost any type of heat therapy will do, including a warm bath, or a hot water bottle.
Ice packs are a great way to reduce swelling and inflammation in a sore back. The awesome thing about ice is that almost everyone has it on hand so you can grab some and try icing your back right away. Putting an ice pack on your skin for 10–20 mins can reduce the nerve activity and help alleviate pain and swelling. If you decide to try this treatment, make sure you wrap the ice in a towel before applying to the injured area. Never place ice directly on the skin. If icing seems to work for you, there are also special ice packs designed just for this purpose that you can purchase online or in stores.
A good massage is something else that you can do at home with relatively little effort. Massage therapy can provide significant pain relief and help with the healing process for those with low back issues. When the correct muscles are targeted, the pain is treated at the source and there is often quicker relief.
With just a few simple tools you can give yourself an at home massage that can significantly reduce your low back pain. Things like a lacrosse ball, a foam roller, or even a simple tennis ball can be used. If you want to get a little more high-tech, there are quite a lot of different products available that can help. Theragun infrared massage gun, the Chirp Wheel, or even the very odd looking (but effective) LiBa massager can take your home massage to the next level. (See our gift list again for more ideas).
If you are able to do it, going for a professional massage can be a very effective way of dealing with low back pain, although, if you experience frequent flare ups, the costs can add up quite quickly. Studies have shown, however, that structural (trigger point or structural integration) massages as well as Swedish massages (relaxation massages) can provide up to 6 months relief from low back pain, so it might help to balance out the overall costs.
It might sound simple, but stretching is a very effective way to help reduce low back pain. Just a few minutes every day can bring about significant reductions in pain, and big improvements in mobility. Stretching can both relieve existing pain, and help prevent future injuries.
Stretching is a highly effective way to reduce tension in the muscles that surround and support the spine. Tense muscles are not only more prone to injury, but they also increase sensations of pain. Stretching also has the added benefit of helping to improve mobility and range of motion.
Stretching first thing in the morning is a great time of day to warm up your muscles. Not only can you make sure that nothing interferes with your workout time, but it can help to set you up for a more active, pain free day.
There are many stretches that you can do specifically for low back pain, but workouts that include Yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi are some of the excellent ways to strengthen your core and stretch out those supporting muscles. There is a saying in yoga that “You are only as young as your spine” which is a great way to ensure that you are always working on your spinal flexibility. Before you start a new exercise program, you should always check with your healthcare provider, especially if you have specific spine concerns or conditions. Some yoga moves may be too advanced or put pressure on the spinal discs.
When it comes to low back pain there is a common misconception that you should rest your back and not stay active. Research has now shown that quite the opposite is true. Being sedentary “allows the muscles around the spine and in the back to become weak,” says Salman Hemani, MD, an assistant professor of orthopedics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “That in turn can cause less support for the spine” and lead to long-term pain.
The good news is that it doesn’t seem to matter what sort of exercise you prefer to do. A Swiss study, published in the December issue of Spine, found that low impact aerobics, weight lifting and exercise machines were all equally effective in reducing pain intensity, pain frequency and disability in tasks of daily living.
A simple 30 minute stroll, or taking the dog for a quick walk around the block, can make a big difference in helping to maintain mobility and reduce pain. You should try to exercise at least 3 times per week to ensure that you stay flexible and that your efforts are maximized. Exercise not only helps to improve circulation and reduce inflammation, but it also releases endorphins in our bodies that help to relieve pain, naturally.
Diet is an often overlooked cause of low back pain. Research has shown that there are certain foods that can trigger inflammatory responses in the body, which can cause problems with our health, ranging from conditions like heart disease, to autoimmune diseases and musculoskeletal issues. Foods such as vegetable oils, sugar, processed foods and red meat, can all increase levels of inflammation in the body, exacerbating low back pain.
Fortunately back pain has been shown to improve when dietary changes are made. Not only does it help to reduce the foods that cause inflammation but eating more foods that actively fight inflammation can help heal our bodies even more. Foods that contain Omega 3s, berries, dark leafy vegetables, even dark chocolate, are all great sources of antioxidants and can help reduce low back pain over time.
When it comes to low back pain, there are several natural supplements that have been proven to help reduce pain and inflammation. Some of the main supplements used to treat low back pain are turmeric, glucosamine, vitamin D and magnesium.
Studies have shown that curcumin, a compound in turmeric, may reduce inflammation in the body. One study compared turmeric to a well known NSAID, celecoxib. In the study researchers looked at pain and found that ‘64% of those who took the herbal ingredients vs 29% in the celecoxib group improved to such a degree that they self-identified as moving from the “moderate to severe arthritis” category to the “mild to moderate arthritis” category’. But not all curcumin is made equally. Turmeric oil may have better absorption in the body and may therefore be more effective.
There are several studies showing that glucosamine can slow cartilage from degrading within the joints. It’s a powerful ingredient that has also been shown to help reduce swelling, provide extra relief and increase range of motion for those suffering from osteoarthritis. While it’s effectiveness on low back pain still needs further study, there are many people who swear by its effectiveness.
It is estimated that about one billion people in the world lack proper levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is often asymptomatic but, while more research needs to be done, it is believed that it can cause bone and muscle pain as the muscle strength of the back, neck and waist decreases.
In March 2009, researchers at the Mayo Clinic published a study that showed that patients with inadequate vitamin D levels, who were taking narcotic pain drugs, required nearly twice as much medication to control their pain as patients with adequate D levels. Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory effects and has been proven to be beneficial in treating inflammatory diseases. Adding a Vitamin D supplement to your diet can definitely help with inflammation, and can potentially reduce feelings of pain.
Magnesium is another supplement that has been shown to improve mobility in those suffering from chronic low back pain and nerve pain. In one study it was found that a 2-week intravenous magnesium infusion, followed by 4 weeks of oral magnesium supplementation, can reduce pain intensity and improve lumbar spine mobility during a 6-month period in patients with refractory chronic low back pain with a neuropathic component.
Over The Counter Medications
There are several types of over the counter medications that are indicated to help with low back pain. The most common ones include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, opioids, muscle relaxants and antidepressants.
According to Dr. Robert Shmerling, former clinical chief of rheumatology at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, ‘Medication can be a crucial part of managing and treating occasional and recurring pain, and can help you stay pain-free and active, but you have to use the right ones for you, and in the right way’.
So, how do you know which medication to pick? Well, according to a study in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, NSAIDs might not always be the best option. The researchers reviewed 35 studies, with more than 6,000 participants in total and found that while the NSAIDs improved pain and disability among the subjects, the effect was very small and was similar to the improvements reported by subjects who simply took a placebo. The group who took NSAIDs were also two and a half times more likely to experience side effects.
Pain is extremely unique and subjective, just like people’s individual responses to medication. There is seldom a one-size-fits-all approach. Prescription muscle relaxants act on the central nervous system to reduce acute pain for the short term and are often recommended when muscle spasms are present, but they can make you very drowsy, so you have to be careful how and when you use them.
Depending on your condition and the type of pain you are experiencing, it may be a good idea to speak with your doctor before taking any sort of over the counter medication as they will know what other medications you might be taking and can be aware of any potential drug to drug interactions or side effects.
When it comes to smoking, the research suggests that if you are a smoker then you may be four times more likely than non-smokers to have a degenerative disc disease or other spine problems. Other studies have shown that smoking history, hypertension and coronary artery disease — all of which are risk factors for atherosclerosis, or occlusion of the arteries — were significantly associated with the development of low back pain. Nicotine can weaken your spinal bones. So, if you are a current smoker, then quitting smoking is something that you can do for yourself to prevent further damage to your spine.
These home remedies all have scientific data to support their effectiveness and many are listed in international guidelines for the treatment and prevention of low back pain. When it comes to health, it is always better and easier to try and prevent bad things from happening. Whether you have had your first episode of low back pain, or whether you have had your 10th, taking some of these effective and affordable steps to prevent future flare ups is a great way to take charge of your health and wellness.
Chronic low back pain can be a debilitating condition, causing social isolation, depression, and unemployment. Don’t let that happen to you. If you are currently experiencing any of those then it is not too late to try and get your spine health back on track.
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