Every day, millions of people in this country experience back pain. Over the course of a lifetime, almost 70% of the population has suffered some type of back-related pain. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that about 15% of primary care physician appointments account for back aches and related pain, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Causes of Back Pain
The most common cause of back pain is muscle strain from overuse, twisting, incorrect lifting or repetitive movement. There is often no accident or trauma that could be pinpointed as the cause of back pain. A slipped disk in the back is the second most common cause of back pain. Of course, a minor percentage could be attributed to infection, osteoporosis and other diseases like cancer.
6 Tips for Treating Back Pain
If you have no disease or trauma, chances are you can quickly alleviate your back pain on your own. Here are some helpful hints to consider:
1. Ice the affected area on your back as soon the pain presents itself if possible. Ice cubes in a plastic bag wrapped in a kitchen towel will work as will commercial ice packs tucked into a pillowcase. Alternate applying and removing the ice every 20 minutes and do not apply the cold pack directly to your skin as you can develop frostbite. You can ice the painful back area off and on for a few days as needed.
2. Reduce physical activity (anything that might exacerbate the pain) for a day or two. However, do not retreat to your bed, couch or living room recliner as total inactivity actually makes the pain worse. Go about your normal activities and take care not to stress out your back. Low impact activities such as walking and swimming can be beneficial.
3. Take the heat. If a few days of ice packs or reduced activity do not totally clear up your back pain, try a heating pad, hot showers or hot baths. Heat is soothing and will dilate the blood vessels in your back, allowing for better oxygenation to the sore area, prompting the healing process.
4. Try herbal remedies. Capsaicin cream found in health food stores and pharmacies can help reduce pain and inflammation when massaged onto the affected back areas. Capsaicin is the active ingredient in spicy peppers and it works by neutralizing the neurochemical that transmits pain. Peppermint or spearmint essential oil mixed with a carrier oil can be used for massages. The camphor and menthol compounds ease aching muscles.
Drinking chamomile, willow bark, licorice or stinging nettle tea can produce a relaxing, anti-inflammatory response that will help ease back pain. Taking supplements such as bromelain, feverfew, burdock, black haw or horsetail also have beneficial pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.
5. Consider alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage or even chiropractic care. Spinal manipulation of chiropractic care can help realign joints and alleviate pain. Manipulating trigger points in the body with massage and acupuncture can also provide back pain relief.
6. Anti-inflammatory over the counter medications like acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen may work for back pain. Follow the instruction on the packaging but if you find that you are near maximum dosage for several days in a row to try and alleviate back pain, consider visiting a doctor because other underlying issues may be at work.
Back pain does not always disappear overnight, so do not be discouraged if you have to try several different back pain remedies over the course of a week or two. The majority of back pain sufferers take anywhere from one week to three months to totally recover, depending on the severity of the pain.