When Deanne Bhamgara took a tumble off her electric scooter on a pier in San Diego, she didn’t make much of it at first. The fall left her sore, but she felt only little pain.
But over the next several days, she slowly began to hurt more and more.
“What started as a tingling sensation in my thighs had soon become sensitive to touch,” says Bhamgara, 28. The San Francisco resident later learned that the fall affected her lower back, tailbone, pelvic areas, and her hip joints. In a few days, Bhamgara’s pain had radiated to the rest of her back and to the thighs as well.
Almost all Americans get back problems at one time or another. You might sleep awkwardly or wrench your back while lifting something heavy. Or, like Bhamgara, you might hurt your back in an accident. But often, says physical therapist Eric Robertson, DPT, the culprit is too much sitting and not enough moving.
“We’re largely a sedentary society, and so that sedentary lifestyle is the primary thing that we have to work on,” says Robertson, who also is a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). “So any sort of movement exercise, walking, working with a physical therapist to give you an individualized customized program is a great idea.”
When Bhamgara went to doctors, physical therapists, and chiropractors about what to expect with her recovery, they gave her conflicting opinions. It might take 6-12 weeks, she heard, or it could take a full year before she was back to normal.
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“I was mostly in bed after the pain started,” Bhamgara says. She had inflammation on her thighs right up to behind the knees, groin, butt, lower back, and sometimes in her shoulders.
Bhamgara is now on the mend. She understands it’ll take time and effort to fully heal and to keep her inflammation in check.
Robertson of the APTA says feeling better with back pain doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some effective steps:
Avoid bed rest. Studies show that lying down too much can slow recovery and raise the pain.
“Over the last 25 years or so, probably the one thing we’ve learned definitively about back pain and bed rest is that is not OK,” says William Lauretti, DC, an associate professor at New York Chiropractic College and a spokesperson for the American Chiropractic Association. Instead, “you want to be as active as you can be with your back pain.”
Move. You may not want to move when you’re in pain, but it’s important to do as much as you can handle.
Robertson says most back pain isn’t serious, even if it may be very painful. “So not being afraid of motion and continuing to move despite the pain is something that’s really important,” he says. Walking is a good choice you can do on your own. You also can work with a physical therapist to learn how to spot dangerous levels of pain and which moves are best for you.
Keep good posture. Pay attention to the way you hold your back when you sit, stand, walk, sleep, or do day-to-day activities. Good posture is when all the bones in your spine are correctly aligned. Poor posture can leave your back stiff and tense. This often to leads to back pain.
Lauretti offers these tips on posture:
- Don’t sit up in your bed hunched over your laptop. That’s a surefire recipe for back pain over time.
- If you must sit for a long time, use cushioned chairs. Hard seats won’t support your back and may prevent you from sitting up straight.
- Use a comfortable desk and chair if you need them while working.
Here are some general tips to maintain good posture:
- Keep your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Tuck your stomach in when you’re standing.
- If you’re standing for too long, regularly shift your weight from one foot to the other and from your toes to heels.
- Roll your shoulders back.
- Let your arms hang naturally on the sides of your body.
Sleep smart. The ideal bed, Lauretti says, is one that’s “comfortable for you.” As for the best sleep posture, he says on your side or back is easier on your back than sleeping on your belly. If you’re face down, your head will be turned all night so you can breathe, which can lead to neck pain.
Bhamgara says tucking a pillow between her legs to help align her hips lessens her back pain.
Relax. Back pain can be linked to stress, tension, and other non-physical problems, Robertson says. Massages and acupuncture may help loosen muscles. Yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness practices may help lift your mood, stretch your muscles, and make you relax so you can better manage your back pain.
Bhamgara says mediation made her feel alive, especially when her back pain made it painful to move freely.
“I would think about healing every inch of my body,” she says. “There were times I would imagine myself walking in a park with my headphones on and just dancing! That brought me life.”
Call your doctor. If your back pain doesn’t go away after 4 weeks or if you have long-term pain that lasts beyond 12 weeks and keeps you from carrying on with your daily activities, see your doctor. They can help pinpoint the cause of your pain and may suggest new therapies. Get medical attention right away if your legs tingle, feel numb, or weak.
There are a wide variety of natural remedies to soothe your back, which can help reduce the intake of medications or provide an added benefit to your existing medical treatment.
Take a look at these natural pain-relieving strategies and find out what works best for you:
Read on to learn more about effective pain-relieving strategies for chronic back pain from natural methods.
1. Enjoy an anti-inflammatory drink every day
When you consume anti-inflammatory foods regularly, several antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and even anti-cancer agents can build up in your blood. Over a period of time, these potent agents can play a significant role in reducing and/or eliminating inflammatory reactions in the body.
Consuming these healthy drinks on a regular basis may help reduce your back pain.
An easy method to consume turmeric is to mix a small quantity (1/2 teaspoon) of turmeric powder in a glass of warm milk. You can add honey or stevia to the milk if you prefer a sweet taste. Consume this drink, preferably just before bedtime to allow the anti-inflammatory process to work while you sleep.
Consuming dairy products may increase inflammation in some people. In such cases, trying plant-based milk, such as almond milk can be helpful.
Tart cherry juice
Cherries are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.3,4 Cherry juice can help relieve muscle pain, which may be chronic or exercise-induced.4 Cherry juice is easily available to buy at grocery stores and commonly contains the tart cherry extract. Try drinking a glass of cherry juice on a daily basis and see if it has positive effects in relieving your back pain.
You can also try infused-herbal drinks, such as ginger-green tea, which contains the pain-relieving benefits of both green tea5 and ginger.6 Ginger-green tea bags can be purchased from grocery stores and you can easily enjoy a cup either at work or at home.
Over a period of time, these anti-inflammatory agents can build up in your bloodstream, so including these drinks in your daily diet will help reduce overall inflammation and prevent new inflammatory pain.
2. Fall asleep faster and sleep longer
When you have a restful night’s sleep, your back will feel less sore during the day.7 A night of restorative sleep can have healing benefits and make you feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and less stressed.
Try these natural sleep aids, one at a time, to see which one works best for you:
- Vitamins C and B6. The natural steroids in your body control your metabolism and promote good sleep.8,9 Supplements of vitamins C10 and B611 are known to help the body produce and regulate natural steroid hormones.
- Melatonin. Your natural sleep hormone, melatonin can be taken as a supplement to improve your sleep cycle.
- L-theanine. An amino acid found in tea leaves, L-theanine may help some people feel relaxed and get better sleep.
- Valerian. Supplements made from the root of the valerian plant may help you sleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Another option is cherry juice or cherry extracts—cherries contain certain enzymes that help promote better sleep.4
3. Avoid prolonged static posture
It is important to pay attention to the joints and muscles of your spine and hip. Prevent fatigue and stresses on these joints by following simple tips, such as:
- Avoid excessive sitting or consider using a standing desk while you work. When you sit for a long duration, the pressure on your spinal discs increase. Aim to get up every hour and walk a short distance to take the load off your discs.
- Check your posture and adjust your neck, shoulder, and back alignment to prevent stresses on your spine. Poor, unsupported posture can lead to several problems in your back, causing or increasing the pain.
- Rotate activities in order to avoid the same set of muscles and joints from getting over-fatigued. For example, if you have been standing and working for some time, consider changing to a different activity where you can sit down. You can go back to standing once the muscles and joints have had a chance to relax.
When you have a flare-up of symptoms, consider less exertive activities, such as reading a book, listening to music, or crafting. These activities can help divert your mind from the pain and let your back rest at the same time.
4. Gently stretch your joints and soft tissues through yoga
Yoga is an effective way to stretch your back, improve the health of muscles and joints, enhance distribution of healing nutrients through blood circulation, and increase the flexibility of the spine.12
When you start, perform the stretches slowly and advance only if you feel comfortable without pain. Gradually, you will be able to add more stretches to your routine. An ideal time for yoga is early morning—to help loosen your spine and also reduce stiffness and aches in your back.
5. Try mindful meditation
Meditation is a great way to improve concentration, release feel-good hormones (endorphins), and decrease anxiety and stress. Through mindful meditation, you can control the way your body perceives pain.13
Find a quiet, dark room and meditate for 5 to 10 minutes in the morning. You can also try meditating before bedtime or while you take a break at work. If you don’t like to meditate, try simple breathing exercises—take 10 deep, slow breaths in a row.
6. Support your body in a warm pool
The buoyancy of the water lets you enjoy the benefits of exercise with less pain. Exercising in water also helps regulate the functioning of nerves and muscles, relieving pain.14
If you prefer warmer pools, look into water exercise classes and hydrotherapy pools. Water therapy exercises are often done in water that is about 83 degrees to 88 degrees. Hydrotherapy pool temperatures are often more than 90 degrees.
7. Keep a self-activating heat patch handy
Heat patches that activate when in contact with the body are a great tool to carry during long drives or keep in your office desk/bedside table drawer. These heat patches activate quickly, can be worn inside your clothing, and provide a continuous supply of heat to relieve your back pain. Follow the package instructions and avoid wearing the patch for long durations to prevent skin damage. Some heat patches are also infused with medications for more effective pain relief.
Bonus tip: Consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement
If your doctor agrees, consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement. Vitamin D is essential for bone, neuromuscular, and immune system function. Taking a vitamin D3 supplement can help reduce back pain by increasing the absorption of calcium in your body and improving bone strength.15
Finding the perfect pain relief technique is usually a process of trial and error, making it worth exploring various approaches. Try these natural pain-relieving strategies for your back pain and see what works best for you. Severe pain that is not relieved by self-care must be evaluated by a health professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.