If you find yourself dealing with back pain on the regular, you’re in the majority, says the U.S. National Library of Medicine. In fact, 80 percent of Americans will experience back pain at least once in their lives. But why?
The most common causes of lower back pain, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, include sprains and strains, intervertebral disc degeneration, herniated discs, sciatica, spondylolisthesis, traumatic injuries, spinal stenosis, and skeletal irregularities (think scoliosis).
Dr. Raj Gupta, a chiropractor and founder of Soul Focus Wellness Center, says that pain often results from being sedentary, too-heavy and improper lifting, and just from getting older.
“Since every segment of your spine is freely movable (enabling us to have full range of motion), pain can arise as a result of trauma like a sports injury, car accidents or slip-and-fall accidents that knock a joint out of place,” Gupta says. “Should a vertebrae become misaligned and stay that way, degenerative changes (arthritis) begin and cause pain too.”
Dr. Gupta explains that with each step we take, our pelvis rotates back and forth and the iliac crest (which is on the top of each hip) oscillates within a track on our sacrum (a bone between the hipbones and pelvis). This track, called the sacroiliac joint (or, SI Joint, for short) is where most people get back pain.
According to Dr. Gupta, there are some more natural ways that may help ease (or even potentially prevent) pain:
1. Proper Posture
Did your mother ever tell you to sit up straight? Of course she did! And she was right. In one study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, people with a slouching habit reported the highest levels of lower back pain. How to stop slouching? You’ll want to be mindful of how you hold your body, says Dr. Gupta—that goes for when you’re standing, sitting, or doing anything else.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you can do a wall test to help assess your posture: First, you’ll want to stand against a wall so your head, shoulder blades, and butt touches it. Your heels should be two-four inches from the wall. Slide your hand between the small of your back and the wall. If there’s too much space (there shouldn’t be), draw your belly in toward your spine. If there’s too little space, arch your back just a bit so you can place your hand between the wall and your back. Walk away, but retain that posture.
2. Weight and Workouts
“I also suggest that patients lose weight and add resistance training exercises to their routine,” says Dr. Gupta. Participants in the aforementioned study who did not exercise regularly were found to have higher pain levels compared to those in participants who exercised regularly. Also, extra weight can put pressure on your joints and bones—leaving you feeling achy.
According to the study, after the eight-week exercise program for posture correction, the participants’ pain levels decreased after the exercise program—specifically in the middle and lower back.
It’s important to strength train at least two to three times per week. You can pair strength training with cardio and other fitness routines, like yoga or pilates, during the rest of the week. And if you’re only doing strength training a few times a week, be sure to do full-body workouts that feature large, compound movements (like squats and push-ups).
3. Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Glucosamine and chondroitin—supplements taken together and used to support joint health—are naturally-occurring structural components of cartilage (the tissue that cushions your joints).
According to a review in the International Journal of Rheumatology, the supplement can help promote cartilage regeneration. And, the National Institutes of Health says the supplement can interfere with certain anticoagulant drugs, like Coumadin—so be sure to speak with your doctor before taking it.
4. Appropriate Footwear
If you have a job that keeps you on your feet all day, consider choosing shoes with supportive insoles. A study in the European Spine Journal on the effect of insoles (on people on their feet all day) showed that insoles could promote improvement of low back pain.
5. arnica montana
Arnica montana (which comes from a flowering plant in the sunflower family) is used as a homeopathic remedy for analgesic and anti-inflammatory purposes. Many people use arnica montana pellets (as well as cream and oil made from arnica) for everyday muscle stiffness and strain-related aches and pains—and, according to an abstract in the American Journal of Therapeutics, it’s also able to promote relief in cases of post-operative and post-traumatic pain.
6. Sleeping Positions
Postural health isn’t just about sitting or standing—how you sleep can also cause major back pain. The Mayo Clinic suggests that side-sleepers should draw their legs up slightly toward the chest and put a pillow between the legs (to keep the spine aligned) while those who sleep on their backs should place a pillow under the knees to help maintain the normal curve of the lower back.
Turmeric, one of the trendiest (and healthiest!) spices out there, has been used as a healing remedy for centuries, particularly around joint health support. Its power-player ingredient, Curcumin, has been known to help promote relief from exercise-induced joint pain.
8. Omega 3s
Omega 3, found in fish like salmon and mackerel (as well as in fish oil supplements, if you’re not keen on eating fish) is a polyunsaturated fatty acid. The body produces some, but you need more through your diet—and that’s because they’re good for your cell membranes and receptors, and they also help to regulate artery function Just a reminder: “Of course, if back pain comes on suddenly (acute pain) and is severe, it is important to see a medical professional immediately as pain may be indicative of a more serious condition,” concludes Dr. Gupta.