Wowwweee was I in pain when I woke up Sunday morning. What started off as a crick in my neck had bloomed into some gnarly upper back pain. I toughed it out throughout the day, using such age-old tactics as: not moving my neck, standing as stiffly as a mannequin, doing awkward stretches in public places, and grimacing whenever I moved.
Needless to say, by the end of a day of pretending I wasn’t in serious pain, it was worse. By Sunday night, I could hardly move my upper body, and I enlisted the help of my boyfriend, two foam rollers, and some naproxen.
Fast forward to today– Wednesday, when the back pain had not faded, and I decided I really needed to take action. For the rest of the week, my goal is bettering my back, through both diet, natural remedies, and exercise. The two former categories I will cover below.
Before I continue, I want to specify that no food nor natural remedy can specifically target your back– just like you can’t spot reduce fat deposits, you cannot ingest something that will help a specific portion of your body– i.e. if you use tumeric to reduce inflammation, it will do so everywhere, not just your back! That being said, topical remedies (such as salves and lotions) stay true to their name, and are in fact topical, so you can target areas through this method.
What to Eat to Reduce Muscle Inflammation, Fight Nerve Pain, and Ease Soreness (i.e. the anti-inflammatory diet)
- Beets contain a high proportion of phytonutrients that act in an anti-inflammatory way, prevent diseases and help your body stay on track. Compounds with the strongest anti-inflammatory potential include betanin, isobetanin, and vulgaxanthin. These are all betalains – red and yellow pigments that give beets their distinct color.
- Aloe Vera-
- Aloe vera juice contains bradykinin, salicylate, and other natural steroids that reduce inflammation. Aloe vera juice also is full of vitamins A, B, C, and E. These vitamins are anti-inflammatory as well as strong anti-oxidants.
- Cherries, Pomegranate, Acai-
- All high in antioxidants, these superfruits target inflammation. Due to the presence of compounds called anthocyanins—the same phytonutrients that give them their rich ruby hue – you can count on these to tamp down pain. Muraleedharan Nair, PhD, says, “They block inflammation and they inhibit pain enzymes, just like aspirin, naproxen, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories.” Cherries are said to have the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food, making them great for remedying issues such as arthritis and back pain.
- Vitamin K, an anti-inflammatory powerhouse, can be found in most dark leafy greens, like kale. Just a single cup of kale provides 10 percent of the recommended daily amount of anti-inflammatory omega-3’s.
- Found in pineapples, this protein-digesting enzyme is a natural anti-inflammatory. Bromelain can be used in supplement form, but eating fresh pineapple may also be helpful. Most of the bromelain is found within the pineapple’s core, so make sure you leave a little of the pulpy core intact when you eat the fruit.
- curcumin is the primary therapeutic compound found in the spice turmeric. A study of osteoarthritis patients revealed curcumin’s pain relief effects: individuals who added 200 milligrams of curcumin a day to their treatment plan were found to have reduced pain and increased mobility. In fact, over 50 clinical studies have proven curcumin’s potent anti-inflammatory activity.
- One of the novel sulfur compounds found in garlic is called thiacremonone. This compound helps inhibit inflammatory responses in your body, making it a potentially useful agent for treating inflammatory muscle and joint pain.
- Ginger contains strong anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols, which are particularly good for dealing with muscle and arthritis-related pain. Gingerols are chemically related to capsaicin and piperine, which give chili peppers and black pepper their respective spicy kick and healing potential.
- keeping your body hydrated means healthy joints and muscles– helping to keep the pressure off your back!
Natural Remedies for Back Pain
Below, you’ll find (some) tried and true methods of reducing back pain and tending to sore muscles. Whether you’re in pain due to an illness or chronic disorder, or whether you simply slept wrong, all of these ingredients are proven to reduce inflammation and soreness. All of these can be ingested for pain relief (in the form of teas, tinctures, capsules, and juices), and most of these can be used in topical salves, and can even be kept on while sleeping, so you can go to bed feeling awful, and wake up shiny and new. To better support your back while sleeping, be sure to use a pillow with plenty of neck support (without propping you up), and sleep with an additional pillow between your legs to better align your spine.
- Arnica Montana-
- Arnica, an anti-inflammatory extracted from the arnica flower can be a powerful aid in reducing pain, swelling, and bruising.Native to the mountains, arnica flowers have been used in European folk medicine for centuries. Arnica is a well known anti-inflammatory herb that really works miracles on sore muscles, sprains, arthritis, and bruises by helping to improve the local blood supply and speed up healing. One randomized study published in 2007 looked at 204 people with osteoarthritis in their hands and found that an arnica gel preparation worked just as well as daily ibuprofen, and with minimal side effects.
- Derived from hot chile peppers, topical capsaicin may be useful for some people in relieving pain. “Capsaicin works by depleting substance P, a compound that conveys the pain sensation from the peripheral to the central nervous system. It takes a couple of days for this to occur,” says David Kiefer, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
- Willow Bark-
- Naturally rich in salicin, a chemical compound similar to the main ingredient in aspirin, willow bark is a superb analgesic and anti-inflammatory. Used to help treat headaches, tension, muscle spasms, cramps, menstrual cramps, and more, willow bark is nature’s personal aspirin perfect for back pain!
- Birch Leaf–
- The leaves from the Birch tree act much like cortisone, a prescription drug used to treat endocrine disorders, arthritis, lupus, skin disease, autoimmune disorders, and more. A main chemical compound found in Birch leaves is methyl salicylate, similar to salicylic acid used in aspirin. It is anti-spasmodic, analgesic, astringent, antifungal, diuretic, detoxifying, reduces oxidative damage to skin (stopping wrinkles), and enhances circulation.
- A new study, funded by the drug company Merck and published in theBritish Journal of Sports Medicine, showed that people with acute back pain who used an ointment containing comfrey root extract had significant reductions in back pain.
Back Pain Salves
- The Hippy Homemaker’s Muscle Mender Salve
- Learning Herbs’ Cayenne Salve
- This Stuff is a Miracle For Real <— THIS! I love this stuff. If you’re ever sore, and too lazy to make your own salve, click above. Killa.
In addition to all of the above, you can support your back through exercise, massage, acupuncture, stretching and yoga, and a healthy amount of sleep. Remember, if your pain persists, seek professional help! Natural remedies are no cure-all, and sometimes they just aren’t a match for modern medicine.
For some tried and true brands of homeopathic pain relievers, click here.