Occasional back pain can be uncomfortable and inconvenient. 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 work absence around the world. (13) 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. In this article, you’ll learn ways to relieve back pain naturally and be given a list of supplements for back pain that you can use.
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. (5)
In an effort to find pain 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. (12) Fortunately, there are safer options for relief from back pain.
3 ways to relieve back pain naturally
If you’re experiencing chronic pain, it’s wise to consult an integrative health care provider to help you rule out serious causes and develop an effective treatment plan. You may also find relief and maintain spine health with a little self-care and by using the following natural remedies.
1. Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet
The food you eat can either encourage or discourage the inflammation that contributes to back pain. Research demonstrates that an anti-inflammatory and healthy diet that is rich in fruits, dark leafy greens and other vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats (e.g., olive oil), and fish may help alleviate chronic back pain. (9)
2. Apply ice, then heat
Both ice and heat can help ease chronic and acute 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. (10)(17)
3. Keep moving
Staying physically active when you have chronic back pain may sound counter-intuitive, but studies show that regular exercise is an effective way to promote relief. In addition to walking, other types of exercise like yoga, pilates, tai chi, and other core strengthening exercises have proven to be among the most effective for strengthening the back and helping to relieve back pain naturally. (14)
The best supplements for back pain
While there’s no magic treatment to instantly eliminate back pain, certain medicinal herbs, dietary supplements, and nutrients can ease the pain, reduce inflammation, and relax your back muscles. Here is a list of the best supplements for back pain.
1. 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. (20) This means that devil’s claw works in a similar way to NSAIDs.
How effective is devil’s claw? 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. (6)
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. After six weeks, the researchers concluded that a daily dose of devil’s claw was just as effective as the pharmaceutical. (7)
From maintaining bone health to easing anxiety, magnesium plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions within the body. This multi-tasking mineral has also been found to soothe chronic low back pain thanks to its analgesic effects. (3)
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. (21)
3. Omega-3 fatty acids
It’s no secret that the omega-3s found in fish oil supplements have anti-inflammatory effects, and research shows that these effects may help improve back pain.
In one study, 60% of 125 patients taking supplemental omega-3s for 75 days stated that their overall pain had improved by the end of the study. This led the researchers to suggest that an omega-3 fish oil supplement could be a safe and effective alternative to NSAIDs for nonsurgical neck and back pain. (16)
4. White willow bark
This natural pain reliever contains salicin, the herbal forerunner of aspirin, which relieves pain and eases inflammation. (19)
While there are a number of studies demonstrating white willow’s ability to reduce 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. (8)
White willow bark may be contraindicated for certain individuals, such as those with bleeding disorders, kidney disease, aspirin sensitivity, or an upcoming surgery. (18) If you’re a patient, speak to your practitioner before supplementing with white willow bark.
5. 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 tend to have much lower vitamin D levels. (15) Another study found that overweight patients who were significantly deficient in vitamin D experienced less pain and disability after taking high dosage vitamin D supplements for 16 weeks. (4) 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.
6. 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 reduces pain symptoms. (1)
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. (2)
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% drop in the intensity of their pain compared to a slightly less than 38% reduction in the placebo group. (11)
The bottom line
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 asking your practitioner about using these supplements for back pain, you can help yourself stay on the move, naturally, and enjoy the many health benefits of having a strong body. If you’re a patient, speak to your integrative health care provider and obtain professional medical advice for guidance and supplement recommendations.
- Adaszek, U., Gadomska, D., Mazurek, U., ŁYp, P., Madany, J., & Winiarczyk, S. (2019). Properties of capsaicin and its utility in veterinary and human medicine. Research in Veterinary Science, 123, 14–19.
- Aslan, E., Kocaeli, H., Bekar, A., Tolunay, A., & Ulus, I. H. (2011). CDP-choline and its endogenous metabolites, cytidine and choline, promote the nerve regeneration and improve the functional recovery of injured rat sciatic nerves. Neurological Research, 33(7), 766–773.
- Banerjee, S., & Jones, S. (2017). Magnesium as an Alternative or Adjunct to Opioids for Migraine and Chronic Pain: A Review of the Clinical Effectiveness and Guidelines. Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health.
- Brady, S. R., Naderpoor, N., de Courten, M. P., Scragg, R., Cicuttini, F., Mousa, A., & de Courten, B. (2019). Vitamin D supplementation may improve back pain disability in vitamin D deficient and overweight or obese adults. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 185, 212–217.
- Chou, R. (2011). Low back pain (chronic). Am Fam Physician, 84(4), 437–438.
- Chrubasik, S. (1999). Effectiveness of Harpagophytum extract WS 1531 in the treatment of exacerbation of low back pain: A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study. European Journal of Anaesthesiology, 16(2), 118.
- Chrubasik, S. (2003). A randomized double-blind pilot study comparing Doloteffin(R) and Vioxx(R) in the treatment of low back pain. Rheumatology, 42(1), 141–148.
- Chrubasik, S., Eisenberg, E., Balan, E., Weinberger, T., Luzzati, R., & Conradt, C. (2000). Treatment of low back pain exacerbations with willow bark extract: A randomized double-blind study. The American Journal of Medicine, 109(1), 9–14.
- Dragan, S., ȘErban, M. C., Damian, G., Buleu, F., Valcovici, M., & Christodorescu, R. (2020). Dietary patterns and interventions to alleviate chronic pain. Nutrients, 12(9), 2510.
- Farahbod, F. (2014). The efficacy of thermotherapy and cryotherapy on pain relief in patients with acute low back pain, a clinical trial study. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, 8(9), LC02–LC04.
- Giannetti, B. M., Staiger, C., Bulitta, M., & Predel, H. G. (2009). Efficacy and safety of comfrey root extract ointment in the treatment of acute upper or lower back pain: Results of a double-blind, randomised, placebo controlled, multicentre trial. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(9), 637–641.
- Hawboldt, J. (2008). Adverse events associated with NSAIDs. US Pharm, 33(12), HS5–HS13.
- Hoy, D., March, L., Brooks, P., Blyth, F., Woolf, A., Bain, C., Williams, G., Smith, E., Vos, T., Barendregt, J., Murray, C., Burstein, R., & Buchbinder, R. (2014). The global burden of low back pain: Estimates from the global burden of disease 2010 study. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 73(6), 968–974.
- Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). (2006). Low back pain: Why movement is so important for back pain.
- Lodh, M., Goswami, B., Mahajan, R. D., Sen, D., Jajodia, N., & Roy, A. (2014). Assessment of vitamin D status in patients of chronic low back pain of unknown etiology. Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry, 30(2), 174–179.
- Maroon, J. C., & Bost, J. W. (2006). ω-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: An alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain. Surgical Neurology, 65(4), 326–331.
- MedlinePlus. (2021a). Taking care of your back at home. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002119.htm
- MedlinePlus. (2021b). Willow bark. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/955.html
- Shara, M., & Stohs, S. J. (2015). Efficacy and safety of white willow bark (salix alba) extracts. Phytotherapy Research, 29(8), 1112–1116.
- Viljoen, A., Mncwangi, N., & Vermaak, I. (2012). Anti-Inflammatory iridoids of botanical origin. Current Medicinal Chemistry, 19(14), 2104–2127.
- Yousef, A. A., & Al‐deeb, A. E. (2012). A double‐blinded randomised controlled study of the value of sequential intravenous and oral magnesium therapy in patients with chronic low back pain with a neuropathic component. Anaesthesia, 68(3), 260–266.