Back Pain’s Back? Here’s Why You Need To Pay Attention

Vaness Monteiro headshot

by Vanessa Monteiro


Back pain is a condition that you may be familiar with, since up to 80% of people experience an episode at least once in their life, and 15% of us experience it every year! (1) Whether its lower back pain or upper back pain — given that your spine is the central support structure in your body— it is not surprising that 25% of pain-related productivity loss is a result of back pain. (2) Often times the source of your back pain can be difficult to determine, as also the back pain treatment to go with it. It’s important to understand how to “read the signs” your body’s giving you. With this knowledge, you can move forward with the best plan of action to reduce your back pain, regardless of whether it is upper, lower or middle back pain. Read on for some natural remedies for back pain relief.

woman sitting in chair at desk with both hands on lower pain to fix posture

Did you know that 25% of pain-related productivity loss is a result of back pain?

Understanding your back pain

Types of back pain: lower, middle and upper back pain

The spine, the line of bones or vertebrae (3), that runs down the center of the back, is a lengthy and complex structure. So, when diagnosing back pain, it is important to understand two main components of the pain: the how and the where.

When you consider the “how” you are mainly referring to how long your back pain has lasted and this is broken down into three major categories (4):

  • Acute: less than 6 weeks
  • Subacute: 7 – 12 weeks
  • Chronic: 3 or more months

Back pain can be further categorized based on its location:

  • Cervical: the neck, from the base of your skull to the top of your shoulders
  • Thoracic: the upper back, generally around the ribcage area
  • Lumbar: the lower back, continuing down from the thoracic & ending at the top of the hips
  • Sacral/Coccyx: the region from your hips to your tailbone, which also falls in the category of the lower back area

These descriptors are important to understand when identifying your pain because they provide insights into the possible causes and treatment of your back pain.

What causes back pain?

Made up of 33 bones and supported by 3 muscle groups, your spine interacts and overlaps with many parts that can each be the cause of back pain. When back pain hits, it could be a result of injury or irritation to the spine itself (including all its joint structures), the nerves that it protects, or the muscles that support the spine. Additionally, as a support structure, your spine has to deal with the many stresses associated with movement (such as twisting) or passive actions (such as poor posture when you sit) making it more prone to injury.

Some prominent causes of back pain include (5):

  • Joint damage: Sprains (ligaments that are torn or overstretched) and strains (tears that occur in the muscle or tendons) cause most acute or short-term back pains. These are often a result of over-exertion or jarring movements – such as when you lift heavy objects improperly.
  • Disc damage: In the space between each spinal bone sits a disc that helps with joint movement. This disc can be damaged by degeneration (loss of integrity over age), herniation (when the disc is compressed and bulges outside its normal space), or ruptures.
  • Radiculopathy: With this condition, there is stress on the spinal nerve root (the section of the nerve that joins the spinal cord). The resulting pain often feels “tingly” and will radiate to other areas of the body where that nerve travels. One common form of radiculopathy is sciatica, where the sciatic nerve is inflamed resulting in a shock-like or burning pain that runs down the leg.
  • Trauma: This can be a result of something like a sports injury or a car accident. Often times the injury affects the muscles and joints of the back, but it can result in disc and nerve damage as well.
  • Spinal stenosis: Through the length of the spine is the spinal column (a tunnel-like space that houses and protects the spinal cord). With stenosis, the column narrows putting pressure on the cord and causing pain or numbness.
  • Skeletal irregularities: This comes in a few forms such as scoliosis, where there is an unnatural curve to the spine, or lordosis where the arch in the lower back is abnormally pronounced.
  • Serious underlying conditions: Though it is a rare occurrence, sometimes an underlying condition can be the source of your back pain and it requires immediate attention. Conditions of concern include infections, tumors, (abdominal aortic) aneurysms, and kidney stones.
doctor examining a man's middle and lower back

Your spine interacts with many parts of your body that can each be the cause of back pain.

When do you go to a practitioner for treatment of back pain?

Diagnosing back pain can be a difficult task for a doctor or medical professional because of the many causes and issues it could be related to. As well, with most back pain being caused by sprains and strains (6), rest and at-home treatments often provide the best fix. However, if you are experiencing some of the symptoms below, it may be a good idea to give your practitioner a call to figure out the best back pain treatment plan:

  • There is no improvement after a month (7), or the pain gets worse even with rest and home remedies.
  • The pain is keeping you awake at night (which is concerning because rest is often a remedy!).
  • You are experiencing additional stomach pain.
  • There are feelings of weakness, tingling, or numbness in other areas of your body.
  • The back pain started after a trauma.
  • You have an underlying condition (such as osteoporosis, endometriosis, fibromyalgia or arthritis) that may make you more prone to back pain.

Visiting the doctor for back pain remedies

A visit to your practitioner about your back pain will likely include a physical exam where they will check the muscle strength and mobility of your back. They may also inquire about any “numbness” or “tingles” to rule out possible urgent underlying health issues. Should they ask you to describe your back pain, try to be as specific as possible, referring to the region, duration and any additional sensations to help your doctor get to the root of the problem. For most back pain investigations, further testing such as CT scans are not typically necessary unless they are concerned and looking to rule out a specific cause. (8)

Natural remedies and treatment for back pain

chilly red peppers on wooden board on table

Capsaicin creams block your nerve receptors from receiving pain signals and thus provides back pain relief.

Initial treatments

When back pain hits, it can be very debilitating and affect the way you go about your normal daily tasks. Though pain medication, such as ibuprofen, can be useful during these moments, there are many natural back pain remedies & treatments to help alleviate your back pain:

  • Chiropractic treatment: These medical professionals use hands-on manipulation to adjust your musculoskeletal system as a method of treatment—such as straightening out your spine—to provide short-term pain relief. (9) Along with re-alignments, chiropractors may use massage, heat & cold treatment, and electrotherapy. A session with your chiropractor should include a full medical history and assessment to determine if it is the right fit for you.
  • Capsaicin cream: You may already be familiar with capsaicin, as it is the component in hot peppers that makes your mouth feel like it’s on fire. However, capsaicin has great quality when used dermally (on the skin) such as in a cream. It blocks your nerve receptors from receiving pain signals and thus provides pain relief to the area that it is applied. (10)
  • Massage: This treatment is done by manipulating the soft tissue of the muscles to provide relief. Though it is not a long-term treatment, massage has been shown to provide pain relief, and sometimes, improvements in function for those managing back pain. (11)
  • Natural supplements: Some natural supplements can provide back pain relief, similar to over-the-counter medications. Devil’s Claw (chemically known as harpagoside) has been shown to reduce pain to a similar effect as an NSAID (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), using a standard daily dose of 60mg. A comparable effect has also been noted with Willow Bark, a supplement derived from the bark of willow trees, using a 240mg dose per day. (12)
  • Alleviating muscle soreness: Sometimes the onset of your back pain is related directly to stress in your back muscles. Practices like foam rolling can work as a natural solution to muscle induced back pain.

Back pain prevention & long-term care

If you are lucky, back pain may not be a condition you have experienced yet in your life. However, given the statistics, now is a great time to consider what preventative measures you can take to reduce your risk of future back pain.

  • Exercise: One way to improve functions, that are typically affected by back pain, is through exercise. In particular, strength training can improve strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance! (13) One study even demonstrated that aggressive strength training reduced healthcare visits for back pain by 87% within the following year after seeking help, while improving quality of life and reducing pain. (14)
  • Get a good night’s sleep: A link has been discovered showing an association with sleep disorders and the onset of back pain. A study in Finland, that spanned 28-years, determined that poor sleep resulted in 2.4 times more hospital admissions for back problems. (15) If you are having difficulties sleeping, natural supplements such as melatonin, lend a hand in getting the zzz’s you need.
  • Cut out smoking: You are likely aware of the increased risk of lung cancer for those who smoke, but smoking has also been proven to increase the risk of back pain as well. In fact, the more you smoke, the likelihood of experiencing back pain increases! (16)
woman sleeping on her couch

Poor sleep was noted to cause 2.4 times more hospital admissions for back problems.

Your back has an important role in your body, and when things go wrong it can affect your quality of life quite negatively. Understanding how your back works and its different components can help you to take care in order to reduce your risk of back pain in the future. And, should the inevitable catch up to you, there are many natural ways on the road to recovery that provide relief and improve function. So, lower (that) back pain and get on the road to feeling just “spine”!

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  2. Stewart WF, Ricci JA, Chee E, Morganstein D, Lipton R. Lost productive time and cost due to common pain conditions in the US workforce. JAMA. 2003 Nov 12;290(18):2443-54. DOI: 10.1001/jama.290.18.2443
  3. Anatomy of the Spine. Reviewed by Tonya Hines, CMI, Mayfield Clinic, Cincinnati, Ohio. [Updated 09.2018]. Source: https://mayfieldclinic.com/pe-anatspine.htm
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