8 Simple Steps to Healing Back Pain

Learn how you can effectively relieve back pain with these simple tips.
By Michael Castleman
Nov. 5, 2008
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Whether from muscle strain, a herniated disk or some other cause, most back pain can be alleviated.
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On any given day, 5 percent of Americans — 15 million people — have back pain. Eighteen percent (54 million) have suffered back aches in the past month. And over a lifetime, significant back pain bedevils two-thirds of the population. Not surprisingly, back pain is a leading reason why Americans consult physicians, accounting for 14 percent of primary-care doctor visits.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the most frequent cause of back pain is muscle strain. The injury might result from overuse (a rowing machine) or twisting (a backhand tennis shot), or lifting incorrectly (using the back instead of the legs). But quite often, there is no trauma. You rise from a chair or bend over while dressing, and wham, you feel sharp pain in your back.

The No. 2 cause of back pain is a herniated (“slipped”) disk. Disks are the cartilage rings between the 33 small bones (vertebrae) that comprise the spine. The alternating bone-cartilage arrangement provides flexibility. But disk injury — which typically appears on X-rays and MRIs as bulging or a rupture — can press on nearby nerves and cause severe pain.

Rarely, back pain is caused by other conditions: infections, cancer or other diseases.

But no matter what the cause, according to back pain researcher Richard Deyo, M.D., a professor of medicine at the Oregon Health Sciences University, “Nearly everyone gets better.”

Here’s how to deal with back pain:

  1. As quickly as possible, press an ice pack against the affected area. Ice packs are standard first-aid for muscle injuries. They relieve pain and prevent swelling. Use ice cubes, a commercial cold pack, or a bag of frozen peas or corn. Frozen vegetables often work best because they mold easily to the shape of your back. Wrap the ice in a cloth and alternate applying and removing it for 20-minute periods. Do not apply ice directly to the skin or you may cause frostbite. Continue ice pack treatment for up to a few days as needed.
  2. Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen  (Motrin, Advil). Or try acetaminophen (Tylenol). Acetaminophen has no anti-inflammatory action, but it’s kinder to many stomachs and, according to a recent review of many studies by researchers at Oregon Health Sciences University, there is “good evidence” that even without anti-inflammatory action, Tylenol provides significant relief of back pain.
  3. Consider trying two pain-relieving herbs: white willow bark (Salix alba), a natural form of aspirin, and devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), a South African herb that has potent pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory action. A review of studies by University of Toronto researchers concluded that both are effective. White willow and devil’s claw are available at health food stores and supplement shops. Follow the directions on the package.
  4. Take it easy for a few days. Don’t do anything that makes the pain worse. But don’t climb into bed. Researchers in Oslo, Norway, analyzed all the research on bed rest for back pain, and concluded that it makes the pain worse. As quickly as possible, return to your normal activities, while taking care to avoid stressing the injury.
  5. After a day or two, take hot baths or use a heating pad. Heat is soothing and it opens the blood vessels, which brings more healing oxygen and nutrients to injured tissues. Australian researchers reviewed the studies and concluded that heat helps relieve back pain.
  6. Engage in gentle, low-impact exercise every day. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends walking. You might also benefit from gentle stretching, swimming or gardening. But avoid running, jumping and major twisting until you feel better.
  7. Try the complementary therapies of your choice. The three most likely to help back pain are: chiropractic, massage and acupuncture. A recent review of 69 studies by researchers at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, Minn., showed that chiropractic provides significant relief of back pain. Studies at the Institute for Work and Health in Toronto show that massage is beneficial. And several studies around the world show that acupuncture is good for back pain. Health insurance may cover these treatments. Check your policy.
  8. If you don’t begin to feel better after two weeks, or if your pain gets worse, see a doctor. Prescription muscle relaxants (Valium) might help. In addition, the doctor might recommend tests to identify the cause of your pain.

Whatever you do, don’t despair, notes Scott Kinkade, M.D., an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “Studies show that 30 percent to 60 percent of back pain sufferers recover in one week, 60 percent to 90 percent in six weeks, and 95 percent in 12 weeks.”


Michael Castleman is “one of the nation’s top health writers” (Library Journal) and a regular contributor to Mother Earth News.


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kenn
8/4/2013 11:48:51 AM
I am experiencing a mild http://atcpainreliefdr.com/ I will try this simple steps to cure my pain. Thanks for posting this.

SteveL
7/5/2013 8:24:50 AM

I've tried a lot of different things for my back pain, and so far there are a few things that have helped me the most; diet and light excercise are huge! You'd be amazed how much better eating a little healthier has made my back feel. Also, posture, and the way I sit make a huge difference. If I slouch, or sink down too much in my chair, my back pain will flair up like no one's business. I also take collagen, which I think helps a little, and I use natural ointments when the pain gets really bad. The best ones I've found are made from snake venom; Cobroxin is one (not sure of website), and Cobrynol works really well too (cobrynol.com).


Johnmortin3
7/5/2013 2:30:28 AM

Hi thanks for sharing these munch of information about relieve back pain. i think till now no one provide these unch of informatiin about back pain and how to cure. i am searching for the lot of reviews for back pain but till now no one provide these munch of informatin to me.


trevor022
6/27/2013 1:15:16 PM

These are excellent solutions! Thanks to things like this and my Cybertech medical back brace from BraceAbility.com I no longer deal with back pain.


Allen Frost
6/21/2010 8:48:33 AM
As a result of chronic back and neck pain when I was in my thirties, I sought out help from a local Rolfer. Thirty years later, I still use Rolfing to manage my posture and minor pain, although Rolfing took care of 95% of it. Since receiving the original ten sessions, I trained to become a Rolfer and am now an Advanced Rolfer in Asheville NC. That is how much I believe in it. www.allenfrost.com

Rich_17
8/10/2009 1:14:11 AM
Sorry to hear all of the suffering people are experiencing above. I've had several terrible bouts with back pain involving the sciatic nerve and my lower back. the first lasted 9 mo the second 6mo the third 6mo and I've had 2 acute attacks (unbelievably painful and scary). I have herniated discs between my L4,L5 and C5 and C6 and the worst arthritis in neck my orthopedic doc has ever seen in someone my age, according to him (funny I've never ever had any neck pain) I tried everything, don't sit in that chair, drive with a pillow behind my back, don't run, accupuncture, drugs. My wife almost left me and I can't blame her I was miserable to be around, always lying on the floor, always in terrible pain 24-7. My brother and fellow back pain sufferer (btw our father died the day after a disc laminectomy) turned me on to Dr. John Sarno. I was skeptical at first and even after reading and accepting his book, Healing Back Pain it took quite some time for me to grasp the concept. The pain is real but it is psycosomatic. For me each pain experience has been a repression of deep dark subconsious emotions. My 3rd chronic episode started around Christmas when my son was 4 years old, My father died Christmas day when I was four years old. It took me 6mo but the minute I realized that I resented my son for having what I didn't have the pain disappeared almost instantly. The pain was created by my brain to distract me from the childish primitive feelings my subconsious was having, it was trying to keep those incredibly painful feelings from reaching the surface. I've never met Dr. Sarno, but his book saved my life and my relationship with my wife. If you are open minded you may want to try his book Healing Back Pain. Again I have no connection with Dr. Sarno or his practice or his book (I am for real). I am just so grateful that I'm totally active physically again, I run, I hike and I'm an avid sea kayaker, I take long sea kayak trips over

Richard_11
2/7/2009 8:29:53 AM
I am 32 years old and have had back pain (lower and upper)for half my life, The first thing I did was to loose some excess weight, (Its not hard if you eat 6 small meals a day and nothing 4 hours before bedtime, the hardest part is telling people where to get off when they insist that you eat everything that they offer! you may e-mail me at Richied26@aol.com for advice and support. I will be happy to help )secondly I still have to stretch everyday,inversion tables work well if used properly, I also stretch my lower back and releive mt sciatic nerve by grabing a horizontal pole or the bed side of my pickup truck (something chest high)and with my legs together I squat down as far I can go for 30 seconds relaxing my back muscles only useing my arms to hold myself and then repeat 5 or 6 times utill I feel beter>

jim adams
11/11/2008 3:53:11 PM
I'm a massage therapist, and i do trigger point massage. My mentors say that about 70% of chronic pain comes from trigger points. Trigger points are also known as 'painful points', or 'yipe points'. They small tension knots that can form at more or less specific places on muscle fibers in every muscle of the body. There are potentially a bit over 620 potential trigger points of which only a few may be active. Trigger points are notable in that a trigger point in one place causes pain in another. One of the best examples of this is arthritic knuckles and fingers. These are caused by trigger points in the extensor muscles of the forearm. So, if you have painful knuckles, back of hand, and/or back of fingers, extent you hand with the palm down and resting on something (your leg, a table, etc). Feel the muscles about 1 - 2 inches below your elbow joint with the tip of a finger or your thumb tip. Don't be afraid to press hard. If it is painful, you have trigger points there. To work them out, press on them like ;you were trying to stick a stamp onto a piece of paper and the glue doesn't work. Work the point for 15 to 30 seconds and if it doesn't go away, then work it (or them) 4 or 5 times a day for as long as it takes ...which may be 4 or 5 months. In the back pain you're talking about (lower back, mostly), trigger points in the Quadratus lumborum muscle, trigger points cause a generalized pain across the back along the top of the hips. There are also trigger points in the Gluteus muscles which do the same thing. The book to get is a self-help book called "The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook" by Clair Davies. It is a book that is easy to use, easy to read, has good diagrams and real-world explanations. It costs $15 (+ shipping) from Amazon.com Given that 70% of all chronic pain is caused by trigger points, it is important to see if they are indeed the cause, cuz the other 30% can be a sight more seri

EV Rider
11/11/2008 7:39:28 AM
Further to Robert Johnson's helpful comments and advice, I also would like to recommend some good preventative courses of action, i.e., If you have a back injury, lying flat on the floor with knees bent is a good way to start out each day, and it will help the muscles to relax and will help adjust the spine. Knowing how to get to the floor position is important. First, get down on your knees and lower yourself to the floor on either your left or right side, then, roll over gently onto your back. Breathe deeply, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. (focus on oxygen and 'light' bathing the sore area and bringing healing -- physician, heal thyself). After 3 or 4 minutes lying flat on your back with knees bent, try lifting first one leg, then the other, one at a time. Place both feet on the floor (still keeping knees bent) and raise the hips up slowly and then lower yourself back down again three or four times. Often you will get some adjustment in your back and neck by just doing a few simple moves while relaxed. You can then try gently pulling your knees up to the chest, wrap your arms around your knees and roll gently from side to side. focusing on your lumbar area of the back. (This always gives me great relief from back pain, especially if I get the adjustment going on -- I mean, who needs a chiropractor when that happens)? Finally, and this is important, when coming to your feet afterwards, you want to roll back onto one or the other side of your body, and then get in a kneeling position again using your arms and legs for support and lift. Now you can get to your feet without doing your back an injury. Once you're on your feet again, focus on an object somewhere straight ahead of you in the distance and walk towards it keeping your ear holes lined up with your shoulders and hips. (A good thing to remember to do when walking, which as the article says, is very good for you). Someone shared the above with me t

Frosty
11/10/2008 9:07:25 PM
I have had back problems for about 18 years, mild scoliosis and moderate to severe degenerative disease with an intradural lipoma pressing on the nerve root canal. I was in the military until about 3 years ago, they wanted to do surgery and fuse the discs. I refused since this would limit my activities in the garden and taking care of my critters. I have discovered that one thing that triggers extreme pain is pressure on my back. Lumbar support in a chair can cause enough pain that I can't walk. Ironically, I have found that the belt that I had to wear as part of my uniform was a large part of my problem, it pressed on my back in a bad place. Since I retired and no longer have to wear the belt, I have very few bad days. I have been out moving wheelbarrows of compost and double digging beds in the garden, and it doesn't bother me. Good advice in the article... stay as active as possible, though I would add that if it's a recurring problem, see if you can pinpoint what triggers it. Sometimes the 'cure' is as easy as taking off your belt. I have since talked to other people who also say that wearing a belt makes thier back hurt.

Robert Johnson_1
11/10/2008 8:43:41 PM
I have had a herniated disc for about 35 years. The advice in this article is good. I have managed to live with it pretty good. A good chiropractor helped me get on the road to recovery. After I first hurt my back I listed to the right about 15 degrees. I couldn't stand straight. I am a truck driver. Had to get off freight and pull a tanker for a year or so until I got things under control. One thing that really helps me if hip gets to hurting from the sciatic nerve, is to lie on my back and draw my knees up to my chest for a few minutes. Also if you sleep on your back, put a pillow under your knees. If you sleep on your side a pillow between you knees helps. I am 69 now and still drive truck part time and do some farming. I am just finishing up building a 40'X 50' workshop. So there is life after back injury.

coloradogreystar
11/9/2008 4:00:45 PM
WARNING!!!! If you have incontinence or numbing down your legs .... get to your doctor or emergency room immediately. You have a three hour window before irreperable paralysis!!! I herniated my disk with a slight tear this summer and experienced both symptoms above. Turns out that the nucleus inside the disk seeped out of a minor tear and pressed against one of the equinus nerves. I was lucky I had great doctors; had I not gotten in when I was supposed to, I was told I faced partial paralysis in my right leg.








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