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 15 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) Massage Therapy
In a 2009 research review published in Spine, researchers reviewed 13 clinical trials on the use of massage in treatment of back pain. The study authors concluded that massage "might be beneficial for patients with subacute and chronic nonspecific low back pain, especially when combined with exercises and education." Noting that more research is needed to confirm this conclusion, the authors call for further studies that might help determine whether massage is a cost-effective treatment for low back pain.
Massage therapy may also alleviate anxiety and depression associated with chronic pain. It is the most popular natural therapy for low back pain during pregnancy.
Back pain is one of most common reasons people visit a chiropractor. Doctors of chiropractic use chiropractic spinal manipulation to restore joint mobility. They manually apply a controlled force to joints that have become restricted by muscle injury, strain, inflammation, and pain. Manipulation is believed to relieve pain and muscle tightness and encourage healing.
Chiropractic care involving spinal manipulation appears to reduce symptoms and improve function in patients with chronic low back pain, acute low back pain, and sub-acute low back pain, according to a research review published in the Journal of Manipulative Physiological Therapeutics. In their analysis of 887 documents (including 64 clinical trials), the review's authors concluded that combining chiropractic care with exercise is "likely to speed and improve outcomes" and protect against future episodes of back pain.
4) Capsaicin Cream
Although you may not have heard of capsaicin before, if you've ever eaten a chili pepper and felt your mouth burn, you know exactly what capsaicin does. Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers.
When it is applied to the skin, capsaicin has been found to deplete substance P - a neurochemical that transmits pain - causing an analgesic effect.
For a 2011 research review published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, investigators sized up the available research on the use of topically applied capsaicin in treatment of several types of chronic pain. This included two clinical trials on back pain, both of which found that capsaicin helped reduce low back pain without causing notable side effects.
Capsaicin cream, also called capsicum cream, is available in drug stores, health food stores, and online. A typical dosage is 0.025% capsaicin cream applied four times a day. The most common side effect is a stinging or burning sensation in the area.
If possible, wear disposable gloves (available at drugstores) before applying the cream. Be careful not to touch the eye area or open skin. A tube or jar of capsaicin cream typically costs between $8 and $25.
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