If you’re a weekend warrior or a seasoned DIYer, occasional back pain is nothing new. But if you live with chronic back pain, you quickly learn how debilitating it can be. In fact, back pain–especially lower back pain—is the leading cause of disability around the world. (1) While chronic back pain can stem from an injury, inactivity, or even stress, it may also signal an underlying condition such as spinal degeneration, skeletal irregularities, or osteoarthritis.

Did you know?
While an acute case of back pain can temporarily sideline your life, chronic back pain—defined as lasting for 12 weeks or more—can be agonizing and may prevent you from enjoying the activities you love. (2)

In an effort to find relief, many people reach for over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen. Yet taken routinely, these drugs can cause gastrointestinal issues, as well as kidney and liver injury. They can also increase the risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. (3) Fortunately, there are safer options for relief from back pain.

3 ways to relieve back pain naturally

If even the smallest movement can be agony, it may be wise to see a chiropractor or osteopath to rule out any not-so-obvious causes of your chronic back pain. You may also find relief with a little self-care.

Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet

Food can either encourage or discourage the inflammation that contributes to back pain. According to Carlos Bagley, MD, associate professor and vice chair of Neurological Surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center, “Studies have suggested that an anti-inflammatory diet can be just as effective at treating back pain as NSAIDs.” He recommends loading up on inflammation-fighting foods like brightly-colored fruits and vegetables, dark leafy greens, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, and healthy monounsaturated fats like avocados or olive oil. (4)

Ice, then heat

Both ice and heat can help ease back pain, but the order in which you use them matters. As a general rule, it’s best to apply ice to the affected area during the first 24 to 72 hours after the pain begins. This can minimize inflammation and, in turn, reduce your pain and the odds of any tissue damage. After this initial period, reach for a heating pad. Heat stimulates blood flow to the area, reduces stiffness, and can help block the transmission of pain signals to your brain.

woman stretching her back in a yoga position

Yoga can help with stretching the back, and keep it flexible while helping lessen the pain.

Keep moving

Staying physically active when you have chronic back pain may sound counter-intuitive, but studies show that exercise is an effective way to promote relief. In addition to walking, other types of exercise like yoga, pilates, and tai chi have proven to be among the most effective for strengthening the back and helping to stop back pain naturally. (5)

Vitamins and supplements for lower back pain

While there’s no magic bullet to instantly make your back better, the following herbs and nutrients can ease the pain, tamp down inflammation, and relax your back muscles. They are especially beneficial for chronic back problems since they can also induce healing.

Devil’s Claw

This anti-inflammatory and analgesic root has been used for centuries throughout South Africa to relieve pain and stiffness. The secret to its efficacy comes from unique compounds called iridoid glycosides, which have been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. (6) This means that devil’s claw works in much the same way as NSAIDs but without the negative side effects.

How effective is it? In one study involving 197 people with moderate to severe back pain, those taking a standardized daily dose of either 50 mg or 100 mg of devil’s claw for four weeks experienced significantly greater relief than those taking a placebo. (7) Another randomized clinical trial compared devil’s claw to Vioxx, an NSAID that was recalled in 2004 because of safety concerns, in 88 patients with low back pain.

Did you know?
After six weeks, the researchers concluded that a daily dose of devil’s claw was just as effective as the pharmaceutical. (8)


From helping to maintain bone health to easing anxiety, magnesium plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions within the body. But this multi-tasking mineral has also been found to soothe chronic low back pain thanks to its analgesic effects. (9) Among 80 patients who were treated with a drug cocktail for their back pain, those who also received a magnesium IV for two weeks followed by a daily magnesium supplement for another four weeks reported a marked decrease in pain. Compared to the participants who only took the drugs, the magnesium group also experienced significant improvement in their spinal range of motion — which is good news for anyone who lives an active lifestyle but also suffers from chronic stiffness and back pain. (10)

fish oil supplements on a wooden spoon

Fish oil supplements are an excellent source of inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids.


It’s no secret that the omega-3s found in fish oil supplements are powerful inflammation fighters, but fish oil may not be top of mind for back pain. Yet researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center think it should be. Among the 125 patients taking supplemental omega-3s for 75 days, 60 percent stated that their overall pain had improved by the end of the study. This led the researchers to conclude that an omega-3 fish oil supplement could be a safe and effective alternative to NSAIDs for neck and back pain. (11)

White Willow Bark

This natural pain reliever contains salicin—the herbal forerunner of aspirin—which relieves pain and eases inflammation. (12) While there are a number of studies demonstrating white willow’s ability to quell pain, one Israeli study specifically confirmed the herb’s use for back pain. Subjects taking part in the study were given an extract containing either 120 mg or 240 mg of salicin per day. After just one week, the participants reported significant relief. And the benefit appeared to be dose-dependent. The higher the dose, the more effective the outcome. (13) Unlike aspirin, willow bark won’t cause bleeding problems, but it’s still a good idea to talk to your doctor if you are taking a prescription blood thinner like coumadin.

Vitamin D

Could low levels of the “sunshine vitamin” be at the root of your back pain? According to research out of India, people with chronic low back pain have much lower vitamin D levels than healthy people. (14) Another study found that overweight patients who were significantly deficient in vitamin D experienced less pain and disability after taking a high dosage vitamin D supplements for 16 weeks. (15) If you suffer from unexplained chronic back pain—and particularly if you live in a northern climate or religiously slather on the sunscreen—ask your doctor to measure your vitamin D levels.

Topically cream in a plastic container with plants around it

Topically applied comfrey cream can significantly reduce acute and chronic lower back pain thanks to its anti-inflammatory power.

Topical relief

One of the most popular topical remedies for back pain is capsaicin, that fiery compound in cayenne peppers that blocks pain signals and eases the pain. (16) But there’s another lesser-known topical cream that can also alleviate pain by reducing inflammation.

Did you know?
Used for centuries for fractures, muscle pain, and more, comfrey contains two potent anti-inflammatory compounds—rosmarinic acid and choline.

Preliminary animal studies suggest that choline doesn’t simply reduce inflammation. It may also help regenerate nerves, including the sciatic nerve. (17) How does that translate to humans? During one five-day double-blind clinical trial, 120 people with acute back pain were treated with either a comfrey cream or a placebo for five days. Those in the comfrey group reported an impressive 95 percent drop in the intensity of their pain compared to a slightly less than 38 percent reduction in the placebo group. (18)

Whether it’s an ongoing issue or just something that pops up now and again, back pain can keep you from the activities you love. But employing these simple tips and supplements can help to keep you on the move, naturally.

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