Most adults will experience back pain — with 80% of Americans experiencing lower back issues and 16 million adults experiencing chronic back pain. That discomfort brings many patients to doctors’ offices. Though some occurrences of back pain can be brief and heal without treatment, recurring or severe back pain can require intervention to provide relief.
You should see a health professional if you have severe or recurring back pain. But with moderate or less frequent episodes, you may be able to deal with back pain at home.
Back pain can range from annoying to debilitating. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to relieve your pain and potentially prevent it from occurring again. Below are 10 examples of how to treat back pain at home.
You can apply topical ointments like patches and creams to the skin to relieve back pain. Two popular products include Icy Hot and Bengay. The medication in these creams or patches can reduce your back pain by confusing the nerve endings in your muscles.
When your back muscles are made to feel cold or hot, the nerve endings are distracted from the pain that exists in the muscle tissue. Additionally, the heat in topical ointments can soothe the sprained or strained muscles. An ointment can be a great option if your muscles are strained to the side of your back, higher on your back or across a large area. If you’re unable to reach the sore spot, ask a loved one to massage the ointment into your back or shop for a long-handled lotion applicator.
One of the most common home remedies for severe back pain is taking oral medication. However, certain over-the-counter medications may work better for muscle sprains and strains than others.
Acetaminophen, or Tylenol, for example, isn’t as effective for back muscle sprains or strains. A better solution is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as Aleve (naproxen) and Advil (ibuprofen). NSAIDs have anti-inflammatory effects for reducing pain. Keeping inflammation low can decrease pain and improve mobility.
Another treatment for back pain is an anti-inflammatory diet. A proper diet ensures you get the essential vitamins and nutrients your body needs. A poor diet, on the other hand, can cause inflammation or weight gain that could put added strain on your bones and joints and lead to back pain.
A healthy diet includes vegetables and fruit, both of which can have anti-inflammatory properties. Consider these foods, which have been shown to reduce inflammation:
If you’re experiencing inflammation and back pain, you may want to eat more vegetables and less sugar. This can reduce the inflammation you’re experiencing or help you lose weight. Even losing five to 10 pounds may relieve a lot of strain on your back and alleviate your pain.
Heat and ice are also commonly used to relieve back pain, but it can be tricky to determine which is the best option for your back pain or whether you should use a combination of heat and ice. To choose, consider what is causing your discomfort and the source of your pain.
After straining your back by moving furniture or mulching your garden, use heat therapy to treat the pain. A pull or a strain will respond better to heat, as it helps reduce tension, eases the strained muscle, increases the range of motion and reduces pain.
If you are experiencing chronic discomfort, apply heat to relax the tissues and decrease pain. Heat can even promote healing by encouraging the blood vessels to dilate. Apply heat with an electric heating pad, adhesive heat wraps, a hot bath or a hot water bottle.
Icing, on the other hand, is key for lower back pain or soreness. Cold therapy reduces inflammation, and therefore, can promote pain control. This is why icing is frequently used after exercise. Even if the pain is radiating into your lower extremities, icing your back can relieve the discomfort throughout your body. You may want to use cold therapy for the following conditions:
When you experience pain in your sciatic nerve, your back pain will start in your lower back and travel down to your legs. Use cold therapy to mitigate pain from a sciatica flare-up, as the cold can help reduce inflammation. Ice can also help if you’re experiencing muscle spasms due to sciatica.
Physical activity can relieve and even prevent back pain from reoccurring. However, you could feel a little sore after working out depending on what exercises you’re doing and the intensity of the activities. Cold therapy can help ease muscle tension and strain.
For an acute injury, cold therapy can effectively relieve back pain. If you lift heavy laundry, for example, you can strain a muscle in your lower back, and cold therapy can reduce the inflammation there. To address an acute back injury and relieve the pain, apply cold therapy as soon as possible.
To make a combination of hot and cold therapy work most effectively, ice your back for the first couple of days and then switch to heat. Wrap ice in a towel so it doesn’t contact your skin directly, and only leave it on for 20 minutes at a time. When using heat, make sure it doesn’t get too hot and avoid using it for long periods of time. Intense, prolonged heat can damage your skin.
You may be able to achieve back pain relief at home by simply adjusting your posture. Sleeping and sitting are both common causes of back pain, as people tend to sleep or sit with poor posture. Make sure your mattress and pillows are providing adequate support and not causing you discomfort.
If you work from home, you may be dealing with a cluttered desk and a cramped workspace without the proper workplace ergonomics to safely sit for eight or more hours a day. Poor posture can significantly impact your daily health and wellbeing, as it may lead to back pain, eye strain and muscle stiffness.
Ongoing or chronic discomfort and pain in your back can result from inefficient ergonomics and improper posture. Many people develop back pain in the lumbar spine, or lower back, though any part of your spine can be affected. Fortunately, with some adjustments, you can improve your posture at home and create the ideal workstation for preventing or relieving back pain.
Desk ergonomics refers to the customization of a workstation according to the user’s physical needs. When you have an ergonomic workstation, you’ll have support for your spine and body in a neutral position, which will reduce your pain and discomfort. Of course, changing your workstation alone isn’t enough — you also need to ensure you’re sitting with proper posture. Proper posture means you aren’t contorting your wrists and hands, bending your neck uncomfortably, twisting your spine or extending your arms beyond your normal range.
Your chair, desk height, screen position, wrist rests and footrests can all impact your posture. If you work from a desk at home, a standing desk could be a worthwhile investment. A standing desk can keep your wrists straight, improve your posture and reduce your back pain.
Your footwear plays a significant role in your body’s alignment. The alignment of your hips, knees and legs affects the amount of stress placed on your back. Wearing shoes with no arch support, high heels or footwear with poor cushioning could lead to back pain. While you’re exercising or walking, wearing support shoes is essential.
To reduce back pain, minimize how often you wear high heels and flat shoes like flip-flops, and purchase shoes that fit your arches and offer the proper amount of support and cushioning. You can also buy inserts for the shoes you already have.
Home remedies for a sore back also include performing stretches. Whether your back pain is caused by a muscle strain or a condition like scoliosis, sciatica, arthritis or pregnancy, stretching may help you alleviate pain, increase your range of motion, improve your posture and protect you from future injury.
If you’re dealing with lower back pain, there are a few stretches you can perform:
For mitigating lower back pain, the kneeling lunge is a great stretch to try. First, kneel on the floor. Next, place a leg in front of you, keeping your foot flat on the ground. Place both hands on your bent leg and gently lean forward. When you perform this movement, you’ll stretch your hip muscles and your thigh, both of which may be playing a role in your back pain. Modify this stretch by lunging forward from a standing position if you can’t bend your knees all the way.
If you’ve ever done yoga, you’ve probably familiar with the child’s pose. To do this stretch, kneel on the floor and place your toes together while keeping your knees apart. Stretch forward gently, reaching your arms in front of you and resting your stomach on your legs.
Perform this stretch by lying on your back, pulling your knees up and placing your feet flat on the floor, keeping them about hip-width apart. Next, push your hips up while your shoulder blades stay on the floor. You can interlace your fingers and keep your arms beneath your back, or you can keep your arms by your sides.
The figure four stretch involves forming a four with your legs. First, lie on your back. Next, bend your left leg while keeping your foot flat on the floor. Bring up your right leg and bend it to the left, resting your right ankle on your left knee. Then lift your left leg until it’s horizontal in the air and parallel with the ground. Repeat this stretch with your right leg.
This simple lower back stretch is an easy way to relieve pain. To begin, lay on your back and bring a knee to your chest. Pull your leg closer gently by keeping your hands beneath your knee. Hold this position for as long as it feels comfortable. Repeat this stretch with your other leg.
Try to stretch once a day or before exercising or strenuous activity. Be sure to stop or modify your stretches if you feel any pain.
Being sedentary can lead to pain throughout the body, so regularly exercising at home is a great remedy for back pain.
As with any muscle, your back muscles need to be strengthened on a regular basis to keep you upright and healthy. Weak back muscles put more strain on your spine, which could lead to pain.
Speak with your doctor about the right exercise program for you, and make sure you’re using the proper posture while exercising to avoid injury.
After you finish your stretches, do physical activity you enjoy that strengthens your back muscles and alleviates tension. You could also try exercises for back pain, like:
To relieve back pain naturally, moderate rest can be an effective method. However, moderate rest doesn’t mean bed rest — instead, this means taking a few days off from your routine physical activities, such as your gym workouts. This is because too much exertion could worsen your pain and may lead to further injury.
Stick to light walking and gentle stretching, as some exercise is often beneficial for relieving and preventing chronic lower back pain. To keep back pain at bay, you may want to stretch or do aerobic exercises a few times a week during your resting period.
Though it’s normal to feel stressed occasionally, chronic stress can have a negative effect on your health and even cause physical pain. Feelings of stress and anxiety cause your body to release chemicals that protect you from danger, like cortisol and adrenaline, which can lead to muscle tightening and involuntary muscle spasms. Stress can also result in continual spinal tension, which is a common cause of back pain and discomfort.
If you’ve been dealing with chronic stress, find ways to relax. Consider aromatherapy, yoga, meditation and deep breathing to relieve your stress.
If home remedies aren’t alleviating your back pain, you may be dealing with an underlying problem or chronic condition that a spine doctor needs to address and treat. Some conditions require intervention and can’t be treated with home remedies alone. Visit a doctor if you notice any of the following signs alongside your back pain:
A health professional should also address any pain you experience for longer than a week.
At Desert Institute for Spine Care, we are the leaders in minimally invasive spine care. We always recommend the least invasive option for our patients while looking at the possibility of surgical options, from minimally invasive procedures to traditional spine surgeries. The DISC spine surgeons are board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons who have graduated at the top of their class from renowned universities and medical schools.