Back pain is a health concern for most people in the United States at some point in their lives and one of the most common reasons people miss work or visit the doctor.
Here is a glance at three popular natural remedies for back pain relief. Although further research is needed before any of these remedies can be recommended as a standard treatment for back pain, some of them may offer relief for mild to moderate back pain, particularly when part of a comprehensive treatment plan.
A 2008 study published in Spine found “strong evidence that acupuncture can be a useful supplement to other forms of conventional therapy” for low back pain. After analyzing 23 clinical trials with a total of 6,359 patients, the study authors also found “moderate evidence that acupuncture is more effective than no treatment” in relief of back pain. The authors note that more research is needed before acupuncture can be recommended over conventional therapies for back pain. Just how does acupuncture work? According to traditional Chinese medicine, pain results from blocked energy along energy pathways of the body, which are unblocked when acupuncture needles are inserted along these invisible pathways. Acupuncture may release natural pain-relieving opioids, send signals to the sympathetic nervous system, and release neurochemicals and hormones. If you want to try acupuncture, plan on going one to three times a week for several weeks initially. Acupuncture may be tax-deductible as a medical expense and some insurance plans pay for acupuncture.
2) Anti-Inflammatory Herbs
Since inflammation is thought to play a role in the development of back pain, certain herbs thought to have anti-inflammatory effects may be useful for back pain relief. White willow bark for instance, may have pain-relieving properties similar to aspirin. Known as salicin, a compound found in white willow bark is converted in the body to salicylic acid. (Similarly, aspirin is also converted to salicylic acid once in the body.) Salicylic acid is believed to be the active compound that relieves pain and inflammation. Another herb sometimes used in treatment of back pain is devil’s claw. Devil’s claw contains harpagosides, which are chemical compounds found to possess anti-inflammatory properties. In a 2007 research review published in Spine, both white willow bark and devil’s claw were found to reduce pain more effectively than placebo. Since many of the trials included in the review were of poor quality, the review’s authors call for further trials testing the use of these herbs against standard treatments for low back pain.
One of the oldest therapies for pain relief, balneotherapy is a form of hydrotherapy that involves bathing in mineral water or warm water. For a 2006 report published in Rheumatology, investigators analyzed the available research on the use of balneotherapy in treatment of low back pain. Looking at five clinical trial, the report’s authors found “encouraging evidence” suggesting that balneotherapy may be effective for treating patients with low back pain. Noting that supporting data are scarce, the authors call for larger-scale trials on balneotherapy and low back pain. Dead Sea salts and other sulfur-containing bath salts can be found in spas, health food stores, and online. However, people with heart conditions should not use balneotherapy unless under the supervision of their primary care provider.