We ask a lot of our backs. Some would say that we’re not built to live and move the way we do. We sit in a chair for most of the day, when we’re built to move much more than we do. We wear shoes that change the way we walk. We lift heavy furniture. We eat foods that cause inflammation and flare up our joints.
That’s why back pain and strain is so common. Researchers estimate that up to 80% of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Back pain is the leading cause of disability and the most common reason for missing work.
Are over-the-counter pain relievers safe?
When back pain hits, the most common step people take toward relief is to reach for over-the-counter medicines. Sure, they work, but it may not be the best route to take.
Over-the-counter pain relievers are hard on your body. The package insert on acetaminophen tells you that it may increase the risk of things like heart attack, kidney problems, and stomach bleeding. Even proper doses can lead to liver damage. The government recently strengthened its warning that ibuprofen could cause heart attacks and stroke. NSAIDs, the class of drug that includes ibuprofen and others, may increase your risk of intestinal bleeding, especially if you have underlying digestive problems.
Because it is so easy to pick them off of the shelf without a prescription, consumers do not realize just how strong these drugs are. What’s worse is that patients generally have a lot of respect for prescription dosages, whereas they may take more than the recommended doses of over-the-counter drugs.
Drug-free approaches to back pain.
People are becoming more and more aware of the problems with over-the-counter drugs and are looking for other ways to address their back pain. Get your pain checked out by your doctor to rule out serious injuries or developing medical conditions that would be best addressed medically. Different approaches work for different types of pain, so it’s best to work with a qualified healthcare professional.
9 natural ways to reduce back pain
- TENS. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, delivers a mild electric current to the site of pain. You’ll need a TENS unit, which is a small handheld device wired to patches that you stick to your site of pain. If you’re a first-timer, ask your doctor to show you how it’s done.
- Chiropractic care. Most people associate chiropractics with just the hands-on spinal manipulation (cracking) aspect of it. But, a good chiropractor will do a full evaluation of your pain and come up with a multi-angle treatment plan. Sometimes, something is out of place and a one-time manipulation is all you need. Other times, your chiropractor will approach pain with multiple treatment options that can include electrostimulation, ultrasound, massage, and more.
- Physical therapy. Physical therapists, like chiropractors, will evaluate your pain and give you targeted exercises to do within the facility as well as at home.
- Temperature. Depending on the nature of the injury or strain, heat or cold may provide relief. Heat packs and ice packs may do the trick, or you could opt for an infrared sauna session or cold showers. Get recommendations from your physical therapist or chiropractor on what combination of heat and cold will work best for your pain.
- Massage. If your back pain is rooted in tension, massage could do wonders to release it and give you some relief. Massage also gets lymphatic fluid moving, which could dislodge some of the toxic and inflammatory compounds that could be contributing to your back pain.
- Yoga. Get cleared by your doctor to make sure yoga movements won’t exacerbate the problem. If you get the green light, join a yoga class. Let the teacher know where you’re feeling tension in your back, so that he or she can offer pose modifications or better poses for your specific needs.
- Exercise. Again, get cleared by your doctor in case you have a larger issue going on. Exercise releases endorphins, brain chemicals that reduce your perception of pain. Moving can also off-set some of the time spent sitting and causing strain on your back. Through exercise, you may also strengthen muscle weaknesses that are throwing your body off of alignment.
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture involves inserting ultra-thin needles at specific points. It may help relieve pain by releasing endorphins, the brain chemicals that your body naturally produces to reduce pain. It’s intimidating at first, but you’ll find the experience relaxing, not painful.
- Herbal pain relief. There are several natural plant compounds that could offer just as much relief as over-the-counter medicines. One example is turmeric, which may help calm joint and muscle pain by reducing overall inflammation. Add black pepper to increase absorption. Another is willow bark, which contains salicin, a compound that is chemically similar to aspirin.