Are you constantly suffering from lower back pain? Don't worry, many of us find ourselves sidelined by a back injury at some point. For fast relief from the frustrating discomfort — and to prevent it altogether — some doctors might advise the following natural cures. (Be sure to check with your own doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet or supplement intake.) So, keep these easy lower back pain remedies handy for the next time you're hit with a painful backache.
Get out of bed slowly.
Instead of jumping right up in the morning, wiggle over to the edge of the bed, roll onto your side, and hang your feet off the mattress. Then slowly and gently push yourself upright, keeping your back as straight as possible. Do this daily, and your morning back pain could ease in just one week.
Soothe with wintergreen oil.
This essential oil ($7.99, Amazon) is chock full of methyl salicylate, a compound that improves circulation, which can kick-start the healing of sore back muscles in as little as one week. It's one of the key ingredients found in products like Bengay and Icy Hot, but can also work wonders all on its own. Mix a few drops into your favorite skin lotion and massage in twice daily.
Invest in supportive shoes.
One of the best back pain remedies may involve a trip to the mall. Shoes with proper arch support steady your body’s center of gravity, easing strain on lower back muscles. Switching to shoes with supportive insoles (you should feel the firm, padded lining fitting snugly into the arch of your foot). This is especially common for individuals with flat feet, according to research from Time in 2018.
Recline at your desk.
You might think sitting up perfectly straight is the answer to keeping back pain at bay, but that's not actually the case. According to a 2006 report from the BBC, the Radiological Society of North America recommends leaning your seat back at work; a135 degree-angle is the best position, particularly for those of us who spend all day sitting at our desks at work.
In 2016, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined the effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction, a form of meditation, on chronic lower back pain sufferers. The research found greater improvement in back pain and functional limitations after 26 weeks.
The short time-outs lower your production of inflammation-triggering stress hormones and soothe your back’s pain nerves. Sit back or lie comfortably and spend five minutes focusing on breathing slowly and deeply. Silently say the word “one” every time you exhale.
Applying a heat wrap ($5.94, Amazon) to your lower back can provide a short‐term reduction in pain and disability, according to research from 2006. The study recommends combining the heat therapy with exercise for more longterm relief, but your body will likely thank you for a soothing warm compress if it's just a moderate case of pain.
Nourish your nerves with fish.
One of the best foods for lower back pain? Fish. In fact, eating 18 ounces of fish weekly could make you feel more limber within three weeks. Studies, like the one from Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in 2016, show that fatty acids in fish (EPA and DHA) significantly reduce muscle cramping and nerve pain.
Sip green tea.
Ancient Asian cultures have been relying on green tea to treat various ailments for centuries, including back pain. Some suggest that the more green tea you drink, the faster you'll recover from a bad back injury. Fans of the beverage's holistic healing properties credit the presence of EGCG, an abundant and powerful antioxidant found in green tea.
Stock up on walnuts.
Eating half a cup of these magnesium-rich nuts daily can improve your flexibility by 20 percent — enough to cut pain and stiffness 28 percent in two weeks. (You can also apply magnesium topically on your skin with a magnesium oil spray.) If you're allergic to nuts, try eating cooked magnesium-rich foods like spinach or beans instead.
Keep your discs loose and hydrated with H2O.
“Water is a building block of the lubricating fluid and shock-absorbing discs in your spine,” says Susan M. Kleiner, PhD, author of Power Eating ($14.33, Amazon). It also flushes out histamine, which is a pain-triggering compound produced by damaged tissues. All the more reason for us to make sure we drink those four eight-ounce glasses our doctors recommend daily.
Strengthen your cartilage with vitamin D.
Many of us don't realize when our bodies are deficient in vitamin D, which is a frequent reason for back pain. You might want to look into adding a daily supplement ($14.24, Amazon), but you should also consult with your doctor to check your vitamin levels before making any drastic changes.
Relax your muscles with magnesium.
Adding a supplement of this essential mineral ($11.80, Amazon) can help soothe back pain — and keep it from coming back. How does it work? “Magnesium calms the entire central nervous system, preventing tissue-damaging cortisol surges,” explains Alan Gaby, MD, author of the academic textbook Nutritional Medicine ($220, Amazon). “Plus, the mineral relaxes painful muscle spasms and dampens inflammation, which helps to speed healing.” Again, check with your doctor before starting any supplement for the first time.
Tame tingling and pain with B-12.
If you’ve got tingling or shooting pains in your back or down your legs, taking a daily dose of B-12 ($8.08-$172.38, Amazon) can help repair damaged nerves, soothing symptoms in as little as three months.
Cut back pain 86 percent with exercises.
Doing simple posture exercises known as the “Alexander Technique” featured in the book How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live: Learning the Alexander Technique to Explore Your Mind-Body Connection and Achieve Self-Mastery by Missy Vineyard ($19.99, Amazon) to adjust how you sit, stand, and move is a proven way to cut painful pressure on your spine and relax your back muscles.
The result: as much as an 86 percent drop in pain and a 42 percent increase in your flexibility — which is key to preventing future back problems. If you'd like to find a qualified instructor to help you get started, you can log on to the Alexander Technique website.
Take the pressure off.
You can soothe the strain of sitting for long periods by stretching once every hour. Stand with your heels and shoulders touching a wall. Tilt your pelvis so the small of your back presses against the wall and hold the pose for 30 seconds, then relax and feel the tension in your muscles begin to melt away.
Try yoga for flexibility.
According to a report from the New York Times, folks who attend weekly yoga classes and stretch for 20 minutes each day at home can become more flexible and less injury-prone. The gentle form of exercise strengthens back muscles, plus relaxes tight ligaments and tendons.
Avoid strains by using your leg strength.
Always bend your knees when lifting, even if you’re picking up something relatively light. Even a moderate bag of groceries can cause damage if you tweak your back by lifting it incorrectly.
Hold heavier objects close to your body as you lift.
The University of North Carolina recommends keeping your arms and elbows close to you and tightening your stomach muscles when lifting something especially heavy. You should also keep the item as close and centered to your body as you can. If you have to move something really heavy, try pushing it across the floor instead of pulling it.
Rev up circulation by walking.
A recent review of studies found that back-pain patients found relief by walking even just a few minutes on a daily basis, according to a report from Express. You don’t even have to break a sweat to benefit. Walking works by toning and relaxing muscles and increasing circulation, which nourishes hurt tissues. You can boost the benefit with a delicious home remedy of sipping purple grape juice to help relax blood vessels and improve blood flow.
Tames muscle spasms with devil’s claw.
A daily dose of the strangely named supplement ($7.34, Amazon) has been shown to ease painful back spasms for patients taking the supplement for as little as just one month.
Relieve shooting nerve pain with capsaicin.
Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers which causes burning sensations. It might not be fun when you get it in your eyes after chopping up some peppers for dinner, but rubbing capsaicin cream ($6.38-$34.50, Amazon) onto your sore muscles can dampen nerve pain in as little as two weeks.
Relieves achy joints with turmeric.
This spice is a powerful anti-inflammatory, and taking a supplement ($8.81, Amazon) daily is shown to cut both back and joint pain for those suffering from aches on a regular basis.
Get all your zzzs.
Sleep is your body’s prime time for producing human growth hormone, which kickstarts tissue repair after an injury. We should all aim for at least seven hours of shut-eye each night. You should also try lying on your side with a firm pillow between your knees and opt for a “medium-firm” mattress.
If you think a hard mattresses are best for your back, think again! A 2003 study from Spain found that medium-firm mattresses provide the most relief from chronic back pain.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.