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A Foot Massage for Back Pain? Check Out the Odd Connection (Plus, 3 Other Natural Pain Relievers)

Natural pain relievers may provide some at-home relief.


We’re eager to enjoy spring, yet back pain can put a damper on our fun. Indeed, about 39 percent of all US adults experience back pain, and that likelihood increases if you are a woman over age 65. While you may want to reach for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Tylenol, a scientific review of 35 studies reveals these drugs may offer less relief than we had hoped. Instead, they can potentially damage the intestines, cause stomach ulcers, and contribute to “leaky gut” — a condition in which toxins spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and trigger tiredness, fatigue, and weight gain. Luckily, the natural fixes below may soothe pain.

Note: A wide variety of conditions can contribute to back pain, from muscle and ligament strain to arthritis to a bulging or ruptured disc. It can even be caused by constipation. (Click through to see how to soothe back pain caused by constipation). To make sure your back pain is not caused by a serious issue, visit your doctor.

Best Drink: Sweet Ginger Tea

Nothing is quite as comforting as sipping tea, and drinking ginger tea sweetened with honey may reduce back pain. According to doctors at the Spine Clinic in Leicester, England, ginger’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties may help ease persistent aches and pains. The reason? Plant compounds in ginger may inhibit prostaglandins, or hormone-like molecules that help drive inflammation to areas of damage in the body. (Prostaglandins are an important part of the immune system and can help heal injuries, but if they are in overdrive, they can cause chronic pain.)

In addition, a 2014 study found that honey 1) tamed painful inflammation; 2) stimulated receptors on nerve cells that lower pain signals in animals.

Best Body Movement: A Foot Massage

It may sound too good to be true, but research in the Journal of Medical and Dental Science found evidence that a foot massage can ease low back pain. During the study, 14 patients scored their low back pain (from one to 10) before and after foot reflexotherapy — a specific type of massage. The average score before the massage was 8.12. And after? That dropped to 4.34. 

Why might a foot massage help? Study authors explain that the technique applies pressure to points on your feet that stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, a branch of the nervous system that calms pain signals. For an easy how-to video, follow along with this 10-minute, Foot Massage Reflexology tutorial.

Feel too sore to reach your feet with your hands right now? Roll a tennis ball or wine cork back and forth underneath the soles of your feet instead. Or try a specialized foot massager.

Best Topical Treatment: A Heat Wrap

Applying heat to your back may significantly reduce chronic pain and stiffness. In a 2005 study conducted by Johns Hopkins researchers, participants who wore heated back patches for three days in a row and 8 hours per day experienced considerable pain relief as compared to those who didn’t wear the patches. 

Why does a heat patch make a helpful, at-home therapy? The study authors noted that heat boosts healing blood flow to sore tissues. Plus, it eases muscle spasms and activates thermoreceptors — temperature-sensitive structures on nerve endings that block pain signals. To try at home, we recommend ThermaCare Advanced Back Pain Therapy Heatwraps (Buy from CVS, $8.49), which were used in the 2005 study.

Best Supplement: An Herbal Trio

Supplementing with a combination of curcumin, black sesame oil, and boswelia may reduce your back pain. In a 2020 study, scientists found 66 percent of folks who took 1,000 milligrams (mg) of the combo experienced complete pain relief in six hours. Credit goes to compounds such as curcumonoids, sesamin, and boswellic acid, which may ease inflammation and inhibit the action of pain-triggering enzymes. One to try: Terry Naturally CuraMed Acute Pain Relief (Buy from Vitacost, $41.56).

Note: Check with your healthcare provider before supplementing.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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