Back pain strikes without warning, causing a dull ache or a shooting pain that can last for a few days, or persist for months. It can be caused by something as simple as a muscle strain or by more serious degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet to relieve your pain. However, the following natural strategies may help you manage chronic back problems.
What you eat may be more closely linked to your nagging back pain than you think. Since inflammation is a key factor in chronic back pain, choosing anti-inflammatory foods like omega-3 rich fish, poultry, fresh fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds may help manage and reduce your pain. Conversely, it’s smart to avoid inflammation-provoking foods like sugar, processed and refined foods; vegetable oils high in omega-6 fatty acids; trans-fatty acids; full-fat dairy products; red meat, and alcohol.
If you suffer from the occasional backache, a little self-help may be in order. Along with applying alternating hot and cold compresses, try a bit of gentle exercise. Stretching, swimming, walking, and yoga encourage flexibility and may speed recovery. You can also try self-massage: lie on the floor or lean against a wall with a tennis ball between your shoulder blades and gently rub the ball against your muscles.
The ancient practice of acupuncture can also be highly effective, especially if you suffer from chronic back pain. It’s so widely accepted that the National Institutes of Health suggests acupuncture as a useful treatment for back pain.
Maintaining a regular schedule of stretching and low-impact exercises like speed walking, swimming, bike riding, yoga, and Pilates, can help prevent back pain. High intensity exercise, on the other hand, can actually increase the stress on your back if not accompanied by proper conditioning and stretching.
Bromelain: the enzyme derived from pineapple, is a potent anti-inflammatory that can ease muscle soreness. One study found that bromelain also helped speed muscle healing. Typical dosage: 1,000 mg three times a day between meals. Other powerful anti-inflammatory herbs to consider are boswellia and curcumin the compound that gives curry its distinctive yellow hue. Both of these herbs offer safe and effective relief from symptoms because they act like natural COX and LOX enzyme inhibitors.
Capsaicin: is the compound in chili peppers that creates heat. Studies show that capsaicin soothes pain when applied to the skin by depleting substance P a neurochemical that transmits pain. Over time, this effectively desensitizes a person to pain. A German study compared a capsaicin plaster with a placebo for 3 weeks in 154 patients with chronic back pain. After 3 weeks, 60.8 percent of patients in the capsaicin group experienced at least a 30 percent reduction in pain, compared to 42.1 percent in the placebo group. Apply a 0.025 to 0.075 percent capsaicin cream four times a day.
White willow bark: can provide fast relief for those suffering from acute back pain. In one double-blind study of 210 patients with chronic low back pain, 39 percent found complete pain relief after taking white willow bark. The reason is salicin, the active compound in both white willow bark and aspirin. Although white willow bark has a good safety record, long-term use can bring on the same gastrointestinal problems associated with aspirin, so it’s best to avoid this herb if you have an ulcer or gastritis. Typical dosage: 400 to 800 mg of white willow bark standardized to at least 40 mg salicin.