Experiencing back pain is a common occurrence among human beings and will tend to affect all of us at some points in our lives, regardless of whether it is chronic or a result of an unexpected abrupt movement that we’ve taken.
Back pains can range from ‘specific’ ones, where the cause of the pain can be clearly identified such as; a strain or a sprain of the back muscles, ‘mechanical’ ones where the underlying reason for the pain cannot be predicted, or which can occur as a result of the weakening of the bones, joints and tissues around the spine. (1)
Mechanical back pain is stubborn and will possibly come back once you have experienced it once. Depending on the specific area it stems from, you may feel relief when lying down or standing up. However, it will probably be the most painful when walking, and you may feel the tendency to sit down. This is a major mistake, as this will weaken your back even more. This type of back pain may be the result of poor posture, unsafe lifting and strains or sprains of the back muscles. It will also make itself evident particularly when you are stressed, due to the uncontrollable tensing of the body during emotionally difficult times.
A good posture is key to prevent chronic back pain in later life. Bad posture can increase the wear in the spine and place unnecessary strain on the tissues. This will ruin the spines stability, which will make itself visible in the form of worn ligaments, especially after the age of 30. (2)
Back pain is particularly common in the elderly (due to excessive wear in the spine), the overweight and pregnant women. Also, it is often identified in people who have jobs that are overly physical such as shelf stockers or delivery men. (3)
At times, a back pain can be caused by a more serious condition such as a herniated disc, where a disc in the spine is putting pressure on a nerve, or a sciatica, where the nerve in the spine experiences some sort of disturbance that can affect the individual from the back all the way down to the pelvis and feet, that will usually feel tingly or numb. Although, these types of back pains may require immediate surgery, they are nonetheless preventable. (4)
During a severe or light bout of back pain we tend to immediately search for a packet of painkillers amongst the clutter in our medicine box, however medicine may not always be the answer, as they only give us short-term relief. There are so many other methods that can be used and performed as part of our daily lives that will leave us with long term relief and a stronger back. (5)
Yoga is the first of these methods. It stretches all our muscles, strengthens them and as a result makes our body, including our backs, much them more durable against compulsory routine activities such as sitting in front of the computer all day for work, or carrying the laundry basket from one room to the other.
The more you practice yoga, the more durable and flexible your body becomes. However if you’ve got no time due to work and children, then once a week is just enough, as according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, participants who attended yoga classes once every week for three months stayed away from medication. (6)
Yoga done at home is perfectly fine, however yoga classes are much more effective, as the collective nature of the exercises will motivate you and keep you going for longer.
Bottom Line: Yoga would add strength and flexibility to all your muscles, reducing any tenseness that can lead to short or long term pain.
If you find that you do not enjoy yoga, then you can opt for the humble stretching, in fact it is just as good as yoga. You can attend stretching class for an hour every week, or try doing it at home.
Stretching is not as simple as it sounds and instead involves different exercises, each adding strength to different muscles in your body.
You can practice stretching at home. Here are a few stretching exercises that you can try out:
a. The Back Stretch: Lie face up on the ground, making sure that your spine is completely straight. Swing your arms over your head. Bend both knees and roll them over first to the right side. Ensure that your feet are touching the ground and are not floating in the air. Lift them up to centre position again. Repeat the process on the other side. Do three sets of each.
b. One Leg Stand: If you haven’t got perfect balance or your leg muscles are not strong enough to carry your weight, then make sure that you’re near a wall or a pole when you’re doing this stretching exercise. All you need to do, is lift one of your legs and hold it behind you for a few seconds. Then place your leg down and lift up your other leg. Do three sets of each.
c. Knees to chest: Lie, face up on the ground, and bend both of your knees. Pull one of your knees up to your chest, ensuring that the foot on your other leg is firmly placed on the ground. Keep your knee close to your chest for a few seconds, and then place it down, pulling the other knee up. Do three sets of each.
e. Pelvic lift: This one is really easy. Lie, face up on the ground, and bend both knees. Tighten your abdomen. This should bring your back closer to the ground. Hold on to those muscles for a few seconds. Do five sets.
Bottom Line: When stretching it is important that you stretch as far as your body goes without any pain or discomfort, as if you force your body out of its comfort zone you could do more damage than good. If you’re not sure what stretches are ideal for you, then consult a healthcare professional (7)
A massage can do wonders to your body, particularly for those suffering from back pain. Another study undertaken by the Annals of Internal Medicine found that individuals with chronic back pain who had had a massage once every week for 10 weeks, said that their pain had somewhat subsided.
It is perfect for releasing all the good hormones in your body such as endorphins, that will help you relax and eliminate any stiffness in your muscles that can lead to back pain. The pressure that is applied to the body results in the manipulation of the tissues around the spine which enhances health levels and relieves pain. (8)
Bottom Line: if you don’t have the finances to go to a professional masseuse, you can always get your partner or a family member to massage you. Just get your loved one to rub the area that you feel the pain is stemming from, and then press down on the specific area, until all the pain has disappeared. However, be cautious and do not press down too much, as this may result with an opposite effect. (9)
4. Talking Therapy
This is probably the one that most will tend to dismiss, however discussing your back pain with a therapist may be the only medicine that you need. This type of therapy is referred to as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and it aids in changing the way that the sufferer thinks about his or her back pain.
Bottom Line: Talking about your pain out loud may make you realize that they are not as bad as you think they are in your mind. Your therapist will also provide you with perfect tips on how to think more positively. (10)
5. Physical Therapy
Physical therapy teaches you how to use your body in the proper way. It stretches and strengthens your muscles through different exercise routines. Individuals who have undertaken physical therapy within a couple of weeks after experiencing back pain have found that they do not need to opt for any other care or medicine.
Once the physical therapy sessions with your physical therapist are over, they will provide you with a list of exercises to continue to do at home. (11)
Bottom Line: Physical Therapy quickens the healing of any unusual pain in your body, including back pain, by proving a flexibility to your muscles with the exercise, strengthening the muscles and aiding you to adapt what you learn from these sessions to your daily life.
6. Osteopathic Manual Therapy
Osteopathic Manual Therapy involves the manipulation and stretching of the muscles in the body by a chiropractor or an osteopath. Chiropractors and osteopaths are trained (for four to six years) in identifying the weak or stiff parts of the body. They work on these parts of your body to relieve you from pain, sooth stiffness and strengthen muscles. They also, rightfully, believe that the body has its own healing mechanism and when treated in the right way, can in fact, cure itself without any reliance on medication.
Bottom line: If you do choose to go through osteopathic manual therapy it is important that you do not just rely on this method for a relief from back pain, but instead make other changes to your lifestyle, such as attending pilates, stretching or yoga classes, or undertaking meditation. (12)
Stress can trigger pains in your body, as when you feel stressed your body instinctively sets off a ‘fight or flight response’ that causes the muscles to stiffen so that you’re ready to attack. So, you’re more likely to feel back pain when you’re suffering from negative emotions such as; stress, fear or anxiety. Meditation can aid you in calming down and relieve you from all negative motions, helping you focus on pleasant positive images. However, it is vital to know that meditation cannot cure back pain, it just aids you in coping with the pain. (13)
Bottom Line: Meditation significantly reduces the movements in the nervous system, known as the ‘fight or flight response’ that is also mentioned above. When this response becomes activated, your body goes through a negative change from head to toe: your blood pressure will be alleviated, along with your heart rate, your blood vessels will narrow down, and your metabolism will going into overwork. Meditation aids in preventing this response from kicking into action, or it at least considerably reduces its effects, in turn decreasing the pain.
8. Use Comfrey Root
Comfrey root ointment is effective in soothing the pain in your back. It is, in fact, effective for all joint or muscle pains. You can easily find it in stores that specialize in organic or health products.
Bottom Line: It is essential that you use it only for 10 days successively, as it tends to show its toxic quality if used excessively. (14)
Giving up on exercising may be the first thing that pops into your mind while suffering from back pain, however this is a huge mistake, as a sedentary life can add to your back pain rather than curing it.
Health-care professionals recommend undertaking about 1.5 hour of exercise per week. Pilates is a low-intensity support that can strengthen your back muscles and prevent you from experiencing back pain. Try incorporating it into your daily life for an hour a day.
Bottom Line: Pilates can be done at home, but like yoga classes, pilates classes undertaken as a group are much more effective as you will most definitely get motivation from your pilates-friends. (15)
10. Usage of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pills
Ibuprofen is especially effective in numbing the pain in the back, however it is not suitable for everyone and you must ensure that you read the contents on the packet or ask the pharmacist before taking these.
You can also use acetaminophen or opioids for chronic back pain, or aspirin, advil, celebrex or motrin, however, these will only relieve your back pain temporarily. Using these medications for prolonged periods of time can even cause a case called hyperalgesia, which means that as soon as you stop using these pills, your body will be more sensitive and prone to pain.
Bottom Line: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pills also come with several severe side effects, such as heart problems, heart attack and strokes, increased blood pressure, kidney and gastrointestinal issues. Paracetamol is mistakenly thought to relieve back pain, however it does not and it is nothing more than a placebo. (16)
11. Hot and Cold temperature changes
The sudden changes of temperature that can be caused by hot or cold compression packs will extinguish the pain in your back. However, this method is for short term use only, as once you stop implementing the rapid temperature changes, the pain will most probably come back. Hot or cold compression packs can be purchased in pharmacies.
Bottom Line: You can use a hot water bottle or a pack of frozen vegetables, however do not apply these directly to the skin without wrapping a piece of cloth around them. (17)
12. Do not sit down in a single position for long periods of time
Sitting in the same position for long periods of time may cause stabbing pains in the lower half of your back. This will usually stem from the fact that, after such long periods of being seated, the individual will forget to keep a straight tall posture, and will instead tend to slouch, applying excessive pressure on the spine. So, it is important that you are more cautious about your posture when seated for such long times. You could try setting an alarm on your phone for every half an hour, that will remind you to sit up straight. However, the ideal thing to do is to stand up, stretch or walk around a little before sitting back down again.
Or, if your job is in a workplace where standing and wandering around is forbidden, take extra care to tighten your abdomen while seated and twisting to one side and then the other, with your back perfectly straight. This is due to the fact that back pains generally tend to occur as a result of bad posture. Ensure that you have your head aligned perfectly with your spine and your ears aligned with your shoulders. Keeping your abdomen tightened for long times on end may be an exhausting process, so you can just do this for a couple of minutes every hour.
Another aspect to take care of, if you spend hours on end seated, is to purchase a chair that has good back support. This would be one with a thick padded tall back, that will fit snugly around your back. And ensure that your computer is at eye level. (18)
Bottom Line: Standing up, walking around and a good chair is all you need to prevent back pain.
13. Go for a walk
Walking is one of those activities that can be incorporated into our daily lives. We can walk to work, walk to the supermarket to pick up a few things for the day, walk to pick our children up from school. And, it's also perfect at strengthening the muscles in the body, especially the ones in our abdomen and back. Once the muscles in these two areas are strengthened, the risk of getting back pain considerably reduces.
Bottom Line: Walking is also as good as any other stretching exercise, and the good thing is it’s free. (19)
14. Use Deep Heat
Deep Heat can do wonders in relieving your back pain and it is one of the most commonly used creams to eliminate the pain. Just spread the cream all over the area that the pain is excruciating from. You will feel a slight heat, which indicates that the cream is working on soothing your muscles.
Bottom Line: Deep Heat may not work for everyone , particularly if your back pain is severe and stems from a serious condition. (20)
15. Purchase a mattress that suits your body shape and change the way you sleep
The best position to sleep in, is on your side, as this will considerably decrease the potential of a curved spine.
Also, every mattress has a best before date, and will show signs of sinking and flattening and this will be evident when you start feeling the springs in your mattress every time you lay down.
People will generally tell you to purchase hard mattresses over soft ones, however not every hard mattress will provide the user with the same comfort level. So, purchase the mattress that feels best on your body. The most important thing is that the mattress allows your spine to find its natural shape. When you go to the store make sure that you lay on different sorts of beds and see which one you feel most comfortable in.
There are manufacturers that specialize in mattresses for people with back pain, some of these are: Bear Mattress, Sleep Innovations and Amerisleep.
Some places may even allow you to bring the mattress home for a couple of nights, so that you can try it before purchasing.
Even though sleeping on your side is the ideal position to prevent back pain, once you do get lower back pain, the best position is sleeping on your back. You can even place a pillow under your knees for further relief, as this prevents your back from excessively arching. (21)
Bottom Line: Preferably sleep on your side, however, ensure that you switch sides throughout the night.
16. Have a nice warm bath with Epsom salts
Epsom salts can do wonders to your body. Just fill your bathtub and add some Epsom salts. You can purchase a big bag for a reasonable price, at some supermarkets and at all stores that specialize in organic and herbal health products. It seeps into the skin and reaches the muscles which it relaxes.
Bottom Line: Ensure that the water in your bathtub is not too hot as this will result in swollen muscles and make sure that the water is not too cold as this will result in the cramping of the muscles and you’ll be in a great deal of pain. (22)
17. Position yourself into bed properly
When getting into bed it is important that you use just one pillow, so that your head is aligned perfectly with your spine rather than being bent forwards. The best position to lay in is on your side, however take extra caution to make sure that your head is facing forwards rather than downwards.
The type of pillow that you use is also essential in preventing back pain. If you sleep on your side than opt for a thicker pillow, and if you sleep on your back go for a thinner pillow. Your pillow should not be pushing your head forwards, but your head should be in perfect alignment with your spine. (23)
Bottom Line: Choosing the perfect pillow may not be an easy task, so purchase as many different types as you can, try them and then return the ones that failed to give you the comfort that you wanted.
18. When driving be aware of your bodies positioning.
If you’re in the car for a very long time, your body may get tired, forcing you to slouch. However, it is important that you are aware of how your body is positioned in the car seat.
Bottom Line: Ensure that your head is held high, and is resting against the headrest. Your rearview mirror should be easy for you to look at, without bending your neck. (24)
19. Lose the excess weight
Carrying excess weight will heighten the risk of back pain, as your back muscles will have to endure the weight that you have accumulated around your abdomen. So, opt for healthier and more nutritious foods.
Foods that are high in omega-3 fats are particular good at preventing or, at least, reducing inflammation that occurs as a result of back pain. Krill oil is one type of supplement that has high levels of omega 3 fats. You can easily find krill oil at stores that specialize in health and organic products and in some pharmacies. (25)
Bottom Line: Take extra care to considerably reduce the amount of grains and sugars that you have in your diet, particularly fructose. Too much grain and sugar in the diet can heighten insulin levels which will in turn make you prone to inflammation that may lead to back pain.
20. Wear comfy shoes
High heels shoes generally hinder you from standing up straight, with the tendency to have the upper half of your body tilted forwards. This places too much strain on your back muscles and may cause long term back pain. (26)
Bottom Line: Wear flat, comfy shoes with thicker soles that will give you a bounce when walking.
21. Just relax
When our bodies are under a lot of strain, from either exhaustion of always being on the go and not resting properly, it can weaken our body and cause stress which can make our bodies more prone to pains, including back pain. (27)
Bottom Line: So, whether you’ve got a physically demanding job or you’re at the gym running on a treadmill or lifting weights, just take a break.
22. Take your socks and shoes off and let your feet sink into the soil
This method may come across a tiny bit pretentious in the list of how to prevent back pain, but it really does work. Stepping on the ground with your bare feet can reduce the inflammation in the spine that can lead to back pain. Preferable grounds are sand and damp or wet grass, as your body is able to absorb a sufficient number of electrons from the natural ground. These electrons act as effective antioxidants that rid your body of any inflammation, and aid your immune system to work properly to fend off any negative events that may cause your body distress. (28)
Bottom Line: So, head down to park, take off your socks and let nature heal your back pain.
23. Take eight milligrams of astaxanthin
This is a natural carotenoid pigment that can be found in some sea animals and plants. It is highly effective in getting rid of the inflammation in your body that can lead to back pain. However, you may need to take up to eight milligrams a day. You can purchase astaxanthin in the form of capsules from stores that specialize in herbal and organic products, and some pharmacies. (29)
Bottom Line: Astaxanthin is perfect for reducing inflammation.
24. Use plenty of ginger in your cooking
Ginger has an anti-inflammatory quality and is also natural painkiller. (30)
Bottom Line: If you don’t cook many foods that require ginger, you can also boil it for a nice hot fresh tea or add it to any vegetable smoothies.
25. Add Turmeric to your meals
Turmeric contains curcumin, which like ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory spice with pain reducing qualities. It is especially useful for individuals who suffer from osteoarthritis, as patients who used turmeric in their meal plans every day, noticed that they experienced less pain and gained back their mobility. (31)
Bottom Line: Turmeric is perfect in curries and in any Indian food.
26. Rub Cayenne Cream on your back pain
Cayenne cream is literally made out of dried hot peppers. It is a natural painkiller and when applied to your back (like you would any other pharmacy brought relief creams) it reduces the pain by acting as a barrier between your nerves and your brain, preventing the nerves from informing the brain about any pain. (32)
Bottom Line: You can find cayenne cream at stores that specialize in organic of herbal health products.
27. Eat Pineapples (especially the core)
Pineapples contain a substance called Bromelain that reduces inflammation that may be the reason for the pain in your back. You can consume it in capsule form, which you can purchase from stores that specialize in organic or herbal products, or you can just cut into a pineapple that you purchase from your local supermarket. (33)
Bottom Line: Bromelain is mostly found in the core of the pineapple, and although this is the most unappetising part as it is quite tough, ensure that you take a few bites from it.
28. Add plenty of fish and dairy butter into your diet
Fish not only contains omega-3 fats (which as stated above is anti-inflammatory) but it also contains cetyl myristoleate (CMO) which lubricates the joints, preventing any stiffness that may lead to back pain. Cetyl myristoleate is also found in dairy butter. (34)
Bottom Line: Cetyl Myristoleate is a natural lubricant, that will keep your joints with the hydration that they need.
29. Give up smoking for good.
Smoking restrains oxygen from reaching certain tissues in your body, these can for instance be the tissues in your spine, hence you may develop spinal stenosis, which is when the spinal canal is so narrow that the spinal cord is suffocated. (35)
Bottom Line: Smoking is bad for a lot of things, back pain included. So give it up for good.
30. Stay hydrated
A high percentage of your body is made of water, so your body will thrive with water and reach a healthy state, particularly the disks of your spine. When they are hydrated with water they tend to swell and become spongier, however when they are left short of water they shrivel and this is when stiffness takes place. (36)
Bottom Line: Carry a bottle of water with your wherever you go to keep the tissues in your body hydrated and healthy.
31. Try foundation training
Foundation training was founded by a chiropractor and focuses on teaching individuals how to use their body properly through certain movements that will strengthen the muscles and find the perfect posture. This will in turn eliminate the risk of lower back pain. (37)
Bottom Line: Foundation training teaches the individual how to properly use their hamstrings, glutes and addular muscles, as Dr. Eric Goodman (the creator) believes that if these three muscles work simultaneously together in the right manner they will be able to eliminate any weaknesses in the back.
32. Try the Gokhale method
The Gokhale method was created by Esther Gokhale who specializes in the ‘perfect primal posture.’ This method shows the individual the way in which our body was primarily built to sit, stand, lay and move around. You can learn how to use your body properly in just six lessons, with each one no longer than an hour and a half for a group session and no more than 45 minutes for a one to one session. Once you use your body in the way that it was intended to, you will no longer be pestered by back pain. (38)
33. Try the Egoscue Exercises
The Egoscue exercises are very simple stretches that will strengthen your muscles and aid you in finding your ideal skeletal alignment. (39)
Bottom Line: You can try one of the exercises at home right now. All you have to do is lie on the ground and let every muscle in your body loosen and relax. This exercise is called “The Tower.”
34. Change your mindset
In some cases, back pain can even be the doing of the mind, and if you just change the way that you think then you’ll have no issue at all.
For instance, when we are experiencing an upsurge of negative emotions; this could be stress, misery, sorrow or exhaustion, then our mind sends signals through our nerve system to inflict pain onto our body, in order to divert our thinking from the emotional pain and instead concentrate on the physical one. However, this is counterproductive as the pain in our backs, causes additional stress and this is in turn intensifies the back pain. If you think that your back pain may be a result of such a cyclical occurrence, then a psychologist may be all that you need.
Bottom Line: A psychologist will teach you how to become aware that your pain is in fact that stemming from your back but from your thinking system. They will aid you in controlling all the negative emotions that you are experiencing. (40)
35. Back pain in children is usually caused by heavy backpacks
With so many lessons each week, and each lesson requiring a few books, children are expected to fill their back packs with a whole day's worth of books and carry them to school in their backpacks. However, these can cause excessive strain on the back and shoulder muscles, as well as the spine that can lead to severe back pain.
You will notice that most children will throw this entire weight of the backpack over just one shoulder as they think this looks cooler than hanging it over both shoulders, this puts so much strain on just a single shoulder, which forces the spine to bend towards the opposite side of the backpack. This may cause severe pain in the centre and lower half of the back. It may also have longer lasting effects that may lead to chronic back pain in the future. (41)
Bottom Line: Although some evidence claims that the back pain caused by heavy backpacks is just a short term one, it is wise to take precautions and either ask if there are any lockers available in your child’s school, or reduce the weight in the backpack as much as you can. Another alternative is to ditch the backpack and buy your child a small wheelie suitcase instead.
36. Some End Notes
The duration of your back pain may differ according to how you treat it and its severity, however if your pain does not subside after several weeks and months, then it is vital that you pay a visit to your doctor. This should be done especially if you’re back pain is drastically interfering with your day to day lifestyle and is preventing you from doing even the simplest of activities, such as tidying around the house, or sitting at your desk at work.
If your pain is getting worse, despite actively trying the methods above, then visit your doctor without delay. If the back pain is psychologically destroying you and is always on your mind then ensure that you visit a doctor, who can perhaps refer you to a psychologist.
You could also visit a doctor if your back pain is teamed with an inability to control your bowel and bladder or if you experience extreme loss of weight.
If you’ve experienced cancer or osteoporosis before and you feel a pain in your back, that does not seem to subside with any kind of movement then seek medical attention. (42)
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.