Keeping your back happy
Back pain can interrupt your day or interfere with your plans. In fact, there’s an 84 percent chance that you will develop low back pain in your lifetime. But back pain isn’t always something you can ignore or wait for it to resolve on its own. Thankfully, there are several ways to treat back pain at home. These remedies include everything from herbs to massages. Keep reading to see how you can ease your back pain.
Try oils and ointments to ease pain
There are plenty of pain rubs and ointments to help ease pain by blocking the sensation. For example, creams with capsaicin can desensitize the pain channels in the affected area. Other ingredients you can look for in topical creams include:
- ketoprofen (Diractin)
- ibuprofen (Nurofen or Dolgit)
- diclofenac (Voltaren)
- lidocaine (Lidoderm)
- Brazilian arnica
Research suggests that topical medications may be just as effective as oral ones. Many of them worked significantly better than placebo. These medications can come in the form of gels, creams, patches, and more. One study also saw decrease in pain when people applied lavender essential oil or ointments prepared with cayenne peppers with acupressure.
Some other brand standards include Icy Hot or Tiger Balm. The effectiveness and side effects of each brand can vary from user to user. You may experience skin irritation with certain brands. Be sure to patch test (apply a small amount and wait 24 hours to see if you experience any side effects) before doing a complete application.
Massage can help sore or tense muscle
Gently massaging a sore or tense muscle is one of the most effective ways to loosen it up and relieve pain. One study found that massage therapy along with traditional treatment:
- reduces back pain
- improves back function
- lessens use of anti-inflammatory medications
- minimizes days in bed
They also found no difference between relaxation massages and structural massages, although structural massages tend to be more expensive.
Consider asking your partner or a close friend for a massage, if cost is an issue. You can also ask them to use medicated ointment for extra pain relief.
What to eat to ease back pain
There’s minimal evidence that an alkaline diet improves low back pain. An alkaline diet involves eating foods that are less acidic. Foods that have grown in more acidic soils may have less calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
People have also used herbs and supplements to reduce back pain. One study found that the following herbs reduce back pain more than a placebo.
Devil’s claw: 50 or 100 mg daily
Willow bark: 120 or 240 mg daily
Always talk to your doctor before starting to use any herbal medicines. They may interact with your current medications and cause unintended side effects.
Stretches to improve your symptoms
Exercises are good for people who have low back pain. They can help restore muscles and protect you from future pain. Some exercises that are known to reduce symptoms are:
- walking on flat ground
- standing backbends
- Cobra pose
Stretching can also loosen up tense muscles and strengthen those that need some help. Anytime you begin stretching, you should approach each step gently. Stop any stretching exercise that causes pain as forcing a stretch damage or cause strains.
You can also try starting your mornings with this 30 minute beginner yoga routine by Yoga TX. One study shows that yoga can be as effective as physical therapy exercises in reducing back pain. Yoga incorporates many stretching maneuvers that can reduce muscle tension that increases back pain. Watch the series of movements below:
Once you get the hang of it, regular stretching can ease back pain effectively. Consult your doctor for help in deciding the best exercise stretches for your back pain, if you’re unsure of what to do. It’s important to make sure that your pain isn’t getting worse or continuing after your exercise routine.
Take a relaxing Epsom salt bath
Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate, works its way through the skin and into sore muscles. Soaking for about 20 minutes can help to ease sore back muscles, especially after exercise.
When taking an Epsom salt bath, you’ll want to make sure the water is warm. Hot water can cause muscles to swell and cold water can cause muscles to cramp. The Arthritis Foundation recommends a temperature between 92 and 100°F (33 and 38°C). Temperatures higher than 104°F (40°C) aren’t recommended, especially if you have heart problems.
You can also enhance the soothing results by bringing a tennis ball or other rubber ball that’s similar in size, with you in the tub. Put it on the small of your back or midback and move side to side. The effect is like a massage to your back, and it further loosens up tight muscles.
An added benefit of Epsom salt is that it’s great for your skin. Epsom salts can exfoliate dead skin cells, soften the skin, and reduce areas of itchiness.
Improve your posture to reduce back pain
Most of us spend a good part of our day sitting down, which may be more harmful than you realize. You can minimize the impact by maintaining good posture. Correct posture in a chair means having all the bones in your spine lined up neatly, like a stack of perfectly aligned blocks. You should keep your feet flat on the floor and your computer keyboard within easy reach so you’re not leaning forward or slumping. This is part of proper office ergonomics.
Many apps and devices exist that can help you enhance your posture. If you work at a computer all day, try the software and app Posture Man Pat. This free app interacts with the webcam on your screen, tracking where your face is relative to your screen. If your posture starts to droop and curve, the app will alert you.
If you are looking to get really tech-savvy, try the Lumo Lift Posture Coach. This wearable device has a sensor that will vibrate when you change your posture from what the posture coach is calibrated to.
Adjust how you sleep
Spending a few nights on the floor with a pillow underneath your feet can really help your back, even if it might be a little trickier to stay sound asleep. If you’re a side sleeper, putting a pillow between your knees can help your muscles relax more.
Sleeping on your stomach can be bad for your back. If this is the only way you can fall asleep, the Mayo Clinic recommends placing a pillow under your lower abdomen and pelvis to prevent back strain.
When should you see a doctor?
While back pain often responds to at-home treatments, there are some symptoms that call for making an appointment with your doctor. These include:
- pain lasts longer than six weeks
- pain that gets worse, even after at-home treatments
- pain that wakes up you at night
- additional stomach pain
- pain accompanied by weakness, tingling, or numbness in the arms or legs.
For back pain that is so severe that you need prescription painkillers, be sure to follow the usage guidelines. These medicines may have more unwanted side effects in the long run. The National Safety Council reports that people who treat back pain patients with opioid medications are more likely to have back surgery.
It’s important to talk with your doctor when your back pain starts to interfere with your daily life. Help is available so you can enhance your mobility and reduce the days you are in pain.