8 Expert-Approved Home Remedies for Back Pain
Back pain is one of the most common complaints that bring patients into doctors’ offices. Although you should always see a doctor if your pain is severe, there are ways to relieve back pain at home.
Home remedies for back pain: Cold
Icing is key when you are experiencing lower back soreness and/or pain, shares Jennifer L. Solomon, MD, a physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery and an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. “It is also critical post-exercise to reduce inflammation and promote pain control.” If you are experiencing radiating pain into the lower extremities, continue to ice the lower back rather than the legs, she says. The US National Library of Medicine backs up this advice, suggesting that individuals use ice for the first 48 to 72 hours, then switch to heat.
Home remedies for back pain: Heat
Heat should be your go-to after a weekend warrior move gone wrong, such as over-aggressive mulching in your garden or an injury form moving furniture, says Justin J. Park, MD, an orthopaedic spine surgeon with The Maryland Spine Center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. “Strains and pulls respond better to heat.” Heat helps to ease the strained muscle and reduce tension and can help to increase range of motion and reduce pain. Don’t let the heating pad get too hot and don’t use it for more than an hour or so at a time. Heat that’s too intense may hurt your skin, leading to more problems. Here’s how to know if heat or ice is the answer for your pain.
Home remedies for back pain: Over-the-counter medications
Other back pain remedies that work fast are over-the-counter pain medication, Dr. Park says. Tylenol, or acetaminophen, is really not recommended for muscular strains and sprains. If you’ve hurt your back, the best remedy is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, or NSAID. Common NSAIDs include Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen). These medications help to stem the tide of the blood flow to the area to reduce pain. By keeping inflammation low, your pain is decreased, and you are better able to move.
You should also be sure to avoid these 12 foods that make inflammation worse.
Home remedies for back pain: Rest
Rest is vital when you are trying to relieve back pain naturally. “We aren’t talking about bedrest though,” Dr. Park says. Take two or three days off from your usual activities such as going to the gym, which could make the pain worse and lead to further injury of the musculature of the back. But gentle stretching and light walking should be okay, he adds. In fact, exercise is thought to be beneficial in terms of preventing and relieving chronic low back pain. For example, this 2018 review of randomized controlled trials, which was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that people who exercised had a 33 per cent lower risk of back pain than those who did not. And in people who did get lower back pain, exercise reduced the severity and disability associated with it. The researchers recommended strengthening with either stretching or aerobic exercise 2 to 3 days per week.
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Home remedies for back pain: Muscle creams and patches
Another way to cure back pain at home is to use muscle creams and patches. Many different companies make these products, but the two most popular are Bengay and Icy Hot. The medication in the patch or cream works to “confuse” the nerve endings in your back muscles. By making them feel hot or cold, they are distracted from the pain of the muscle tissue. In addition, the heat from these patches goes a long way toward soothing the muscles that have been strained or sprained. Large patches are probably more convenient, but creams may work better if your muscles are strained higher up on the back, to the side, or over a large area.
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Home remedies for back pain: Try a rub
There are a host of over-the-counter and prescription pain relieving gels, Dr. Park says. “BenGay, Doans and other over-the-counter rubs provide relief, and prescription strength anti-inflammatory creams are great for people who can’t tolerate taking them by mouth,” he says. Ask a loved one to massage the cream into your back if you can’t reach the sore spot.
Check out more pain management tips from Canadian physiotherapists.
Home remedies for back pain: Know when to call in the doctor
Self-treating with home remedies for back pain makes sense to a point, says Dr. Park. “Give it a week or two but if after a few weeks, your pain is not getting better, getting worse or is severe at night, see a doctor to find out what else may help.” Next, check out five surprising causes of back pain—and how to find relief.