Millions of Americans suffer from lower back pain at any given time.
Low back pain is not only a physical problem; it also affects the social, psychological, and economic aspects of an individual’s life. If you’re looking for the best treatments of how to ease lower back pain naturally, we’ve got the top 6 natural treatments below.
First, some quick facts on lower back pain:
- According to the Global Burden of Disease 2010, lower back pain is the leading cause of disability, worldwide.
- Lower back pain is one of the leading causes for visits to the doctor’s office, second only to upper respiratory infections.
- Approximately 25% of American adults report having lower back pain, lasting a minimum of 1 day, in the last three months.
- Up to 80% of the population will experience at least one episode of lower back pain in their lifetime.
- Most cases of lower back pain are self-limiting, having acute or sub-acute durations, but approximately 10% of low back pain patients will develop chronic pain.
- In 2006, the total cost attributed to low back pain in the United States was estimated at $100 billion.
You might be wondering why so many individuals suffer from lower back pain, and the answer is a little bit complicated. The lower back is an intricate structure comprised of delicate components including bones, joints, intervertebral discs, ligaments, nerves, and muscles. Degeneration or damage to any of these structures can lead to irritation, inflammation, and pain.
Many individuals suffer an injury to their lower back when playing sports or being in an accident, but others suffer an injury from simple, every day movements, such as getting out of bed or putting on their shoes. Additionally, other factors including poor posture, obesity, arthritis, and psychological stress can contribute to, or complicate lower back pain. While most cases of lower back pain are mechanical or inorganic, some cases of lower back pain result from more serious conditions such as diseases of the internal organs (i.e. kidney infection or kidney stones), bone loss (i.e. osteopenia or osteoporosis), cancer, arthritis, or fractures. Other conditions can include a bulging disc or a herniated disc.
Before you go reaching for pain medications to ease your lower back pain, think about this – recently, The American College of Physicians released an evidenced-based clinical guideline that states that physicians and patients should manage acute (duration less than 4 weeks) and sub-acute (duration between 4 and 12 weeks) lower back pain with non-drug therapies including superficial heat, massage, acupuncture, and/or spinal manipulation. Additionally, there are a few other things you can try when searching for ideas on how to ease lower back pain, including correcting your posture and engaging in a stretching and strengthening exercise program.
Let’s dive in…
6 Treatments – How to ease lower back pain naturally
#1. Correct Your Posture
If you want to learn how to ease lower back pain, start by paying attention to your posture. Proper posture is essential for keeping your spine healthy and strong. You may be thinking, what exactly is posture and why is it so important?
Posture refers to the way you hold your body while you’re standing, sitting, and performing tasking such as lifting, bending, twisting, etc. Proper posture maintains proper alignment of the vertebrae in your spine and helps to maintain your body’s natural spinal curvatures:
– Cervical curve (an inwards curve of your neck)
– Thoracic curve (an outwards curve of your upper back)
– Lumbar curve (an inwards curve of your lower back)
According to the Mayo Clinic, when you slouch the muscles and ligaments of your lower back strain in an effort to keep you balanced, which can ultimately lead to lower back pain.
3 Tips for Proper Posture:
1. When standing – stand tall with your shoulders back while keeping your head aligned with your body. Your feet should be about shoulder width apart and most of your weight should be on the balls of your feet. Tighten your abdomen, don’t lock your knees, and allow your arms to hang naturally at the side of your body. If you’re standing for long periods of time, shift your weight periodically from your toes to your heels of from one foot to the other.
2. When sitting – sit in a position so that your feet rest flat on the floor and your thighs are parallel to the floor. Avoid crossing your legs and try to keep a slight gap between the back of your knees and the front of your chair. Place a small rolled towel or pillow in the curve of your lower back if your chair isn’t supportive. Your shoulders should be relaxed and your upper back and neck should be straight with your chin tucked in slightly.
3. When lifting – start with your feet shoulder width apart and one foot slightly in front of the other. While bending at the hips and knees, squat down to pick up the item while maintaining good posture by looking straight ahead, keeping your back straight, chest out, and shoulders back. Slowly lift the item while straightening your hips and knees. Remember to keep your back straight and avoid twisting. Change direction by moving your feet, not your back. Minimize the risk of injury by holding the item as close to your body as possible. To put the item down, squat with your knees and hips.
#2. Get A Massage Regularly
Massage therapy is typically perceived as a safe therapeutic option without significant side effects or risks, which is one of the reasons it has become one of the most popular treatment modalities when individuals are trying to figure out how to ease lower back pain.
A new body of evidence is emerging and it supports the use of massage therapy for short-term treatment of non-specific lower back pain. One systematic review of literature, published in Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, found that participants that presented with acute or sub acute non-specific lower back pain had significantly better pain intensity and disability scores compared to patients that received no treatment or placebo (sham) treatment.
3 Popular Massage Techniques:
1. Swedish Massage – this is the most common massage technique and involves four common strokes (effleurage, petrissage, friction, and tapotement). These strokes use soft, long, and kneading strokes in addition to light, tapping strokes, and are sometimes combined with movement of the joints. This type of massage helps to relieve tension and can help to reduce lower back pain.
2. Deep Tissue Massage – this technique involves using slow and deliberate strokes that address painful areas of the body by focusing pressure on the deeper layers of the body including muscles, and tendons. This type of massage can help to relieve chronic lower back pain.
3. Myofascial Release – this technique involves the application of a gentle and sustained pressure to the Myofascial connective tissue restrictions that are found on examination, combined with specific stretching. The goal of this technique is the elimination of pain and restoration of movement.
#3. Try Acupuncture
Acupuncture is an ancient medical procedure that involves inserting thin needles into specific areas of the body. Similar to massage therapy, interest in this treatment modality has been growing from both the public and health professionals, in part due to the mounting evidence supporting the use of acupuncture for the treatment of lower back pain.
In an overview of systematic reviews on acupuncture treatment using TCM and Western medical acupuncture, published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the researchers found that all seven systematic reviews showed acupuncture to be superior to no treatment for both reducing pain and improving function in patients with chronic lower back pain. Further, five systematic reviews found that when acupuncture was used as an adjunct to conventional therapies (i.e. exercise, physiotherapy, medications), it provides short-term benefits for easing lower back pain.
3 Popular Acupuncture Techniques:
1. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners – define acupuncture as a treatment that balances the flow of energy (qi or chi) flowing through pathways (meridians) of your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, TCM practitioners believe that the flow of energy in your body will be restored.
2. Western Medical Acupuncture practitioners – believe that specific acupuncture points act as areas to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissues. Western practitioners believe that needle insertion increases blood flow and stimulates the body’s natural painkillers.
3. Combination practitioners – combine elements of TCM and Western medical acupuncture to provide a unique technique for their patients.
#4. Get Spinal Manipulation (From A Chiropractor)
How to ease lower back pain naturally with:
Spinal manipulation is practiced by a variety of healthcare practitioners, mostly commonly by chiropractors, but physical therapists, osteopaths, naturopaths, and even some medical doctors also perform this therapy.
Spinal manipulation, often referred to as an “adjustment”, is performed with the hands or assistive devices that apply controlled forces to the joints of the spine. Spinal manipulation, includes both mobilization and manipulation of the joints of the spine. Mobilization refers to movements of the spine within their normal of motion. The therapist uses slow, passive movements to mobilize the joint. The therapist initially works within a small range before moving to an increased range of motion. Manipulation, on the other hand, involves application of a force at, or near the end of, passive range of motion. Many people hear a “pop” or “crack” with spinal manipulation. The goal of spinal manipulation is to relieve pain and improve function.
A Cochrane Review identified 26 randomized controlled trials, representing 6070 participants, and found that spinal manipulation therapy, delivered by chiropractors, manual therapists, and physical therapists, appears to be as effective as other therapies that are commonly prescribed, including standard medical care.
3 Popular Spinal Manipulation Techniques:
1. Diversified technique – this is the most common type of spinal manipulation that is typically associated with chiropractors. This technique is often referred to as a “high velocity, low amplitude” procedure, meaning that the therapist will apply a quick and shallow thrust on the joints of the spine using their hands.
2. The Activator Technique ® – this is a widely used technique, especially among chiropractors, that involves using a spring-loaded instrument to deliver a small impulse to the joints of the spine to manipulate areas of restriction.
3. Sacro-Occipital Technique – this technique is based on normalizing the relationship between the “foundation of the spine” – the sacrum – and the top of the spine – the occiput. The relationship between the sacrum and the occiput has been shown to be important for normal functioning of the spinal cord and brain.
#5. Do Exercise/Strength Training
The idea of exercising for health benefits is not a new one, but the problem is that many primary care physicians do not recommend exercise to their lower back pain patients. However, exercise and strength training is an important component for the management of both acute and chronic lower back pain.
A Cochrane Review that looked at 61 randomized controlled trials, representing 6390 participants, found that exercise is slightly effective for decreasing pain and improving function in adult patients with chronic low back pain, especially for patients visiting a healthcare practitioner. Additionally, researchers found that patients with sub acute lower back pain, had improved absenteeism outcomes when they were placed on an exercise program using a graded method. Finally, they found that for patients with acute lower back pain, exercise is as effective as other conservative treatments or no treatment at all.
So, what type of exercise should you do? According to a report, published in The Ochsner Journal the exercise principle known as “progressive overload” should be used. This principle includes 3 elements for the prescribed exercise:
– Frequency (how often)
– Intensity (how hard)
– Duration (how long)
Using the principle of progressive overload, these three principles should be manipulated gradually to increase the amount of work that a person exerts until their maximal exercise potential is reached. It doesn’t matter what type of activity is being performed, this principle will increase a person’s ability to perform activities of daily living.
Research on core stabilization exercise have been equivocal, however, lumbar extension strengthening has been shown to be effective for the management of lower back pain. Engaging in a program to strengthen these muscles can help to reduce lower back pain and prevent future episodes of low back pain.
3 Effective Exercises for Lower Back pain:
1. Quadruped (opposite arm/leg combination) – begin in a quadruped position (on your hands and knees). Keep your head straight and knees bent at 90 degrees. Engage your core muscle (think about pulling your belly button towards your spine) and utilize your hamstring, gluteals, and lower back muscles to lift your left leg straight behind you while simultaneously lifting your right arm in front of you. Ensure that you keep your back straight during the entire exercise. Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times on each side.
2. Plank on elbows – lie on your stomach with your forearms against the mat. Engage your core and lift your body so that you are resting on your forearms and toes. Ensure to keep your back straight throughout the entire exercise. Hold the plank position for 10 seconds. Perform this exercise 5 to 10 times. When you’re ready, increase the intensity by increasing the time you hold the plank in 10 second increments.
3. Bridge with arms at side – lie on your back with your knees and hips at 90 degrees, and feet flat on the floor with your palms down at your sides. Engage your core and utilize your hamstring and gluteals to slowly raise your buttocks off of the mat until your torso is aligned with your thighs. Hold the end position for 3-5 seconds and repeat 10 times.
Additional recommended reading:
For 7 herniated disc exercises click here
#6. Do Stretch Regularly
Basic stretching exercises can help to stretch and strength your lower back muscles as well as supporting musculature, which helps to reduce lower back pain and minimize the risk of future lower back pain episodes. In one study looking at stretching and yoga for the treatment of lower back pain, the researchers found that both activities were both superior to self-care.
3 Effective Stretches for Lower Back Pain:
1. Knee to chest stretch – position yourself on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Position your hands under your left knee and bring the knee towards your left shoulder. Hold the end position for 5 seconds. Return to the starting position slowly and repeat on the right.
2. Cat stretch – start by positioning yourself on your hands and knees, slowly arch your back towards the ceiling and then slowly letting your abdomen and back sink in towards the floor before returning to your starting position.
3. Seated lumbar rotation – while sitting in an armless chair, cross your left leg over your right knee. While bracing your right arm on the outer portion of your right knee twist to the left, and hold the end position for 5 to 10 seconds. Return to the starting position slowly and repeat on the right side.
Lower back pain is a common condition and can be debilitating in some cases, which leaves sufferers searching for ways on how to ease lower back pain naturally. Recently, there has been a dramatic surge in the number of people seeking CAM therapies for the treatment of low back pain symptoms and even conventional medical practitioners are being told to make conservative recommendations, such as acupuncture, massage, exercise, and spinal manipulation therapy to their low back pain patients. If you’re suffering from lower back pain, using a combination of conservative therapies may provide the most effective results. Give conservative treatment options a try and be on your way to a healthier lower back with less pain and improved function.
Do you have any specific methods you use in addition to these to alleviate your back pain? Leave a comment below.
Licensed chiropractor, DC (Owner of Forme Clinic, Stoney Creek, ON, L8G 1B9)
Dr. Shaina McQuilkie graduated from Brock University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Kinesiology (Honours). She then attended D’Youville College, in Buffalo, New York and obtained her Doctorate of Chiropractic Degree in 2008. After graduating, Dr. McQuilkie practiced in a multi-disciplinary healthcare facility based in Hamilton, Ontario gaining experience treating a variety of musculoskeletal injuries.