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10 Drug-Free Ways to Banish Back Pain

Updated on March 13, 2017
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Andrew is a freelance writer and substitute teacher from Redwood City. He has a B.A. in Literature from San Francisco State.

According to the American Chiropractic Association, half of all working Americans experience back pain symptoms every year. Back pain can be triggered by bad posture, lifting incorrectly or bending awkwardly, but it often has no obvious cause. Most cases are treated with over-the-counter or prescription pain killers. These drugs may help to ease the discomfort, but they don't address the underlying issues. Here are ten practical ways to reduce your back pain and help prevent future episodes.

1. Develop Healthy Computer Habits

If you type at a keyboard all day at work or spend a lot of time on your home PC, there are precautions you can take to avoid back strain.

  • Use an adjustable office chair and change the height, tilt and back position to provide good lumbar support.
  • Sit with both feet resting on the floor and your knees slightly lower than your hips.
  • Place your monitor directly in front of you at a height which allows you to type without bending your neck.
  • Most importantly, take frequent short breaks.
  • Get up out of your chair and move around to prevent your back muscles from becoming stiff and tense.
  • Try an adjustable height, stand-up desk (see above photo)

Aside from back pain, poor posture and extended time at a computer can also trigger symptoms including allergies, fatigue, dizziness, and tingling in the extremities.

2. Wear Comfortable Shoes

Improper footwear could be contributing to your back pain. When you walk or run, you exert a force on your feet greater than your body weight. As your foot hits the ground, some of the shock of impact travels up to your lower back. Shoes with good cushioning and arch support can help to act as shock absorbers, reducing the strain on your spine and back muscles. High heels have the opposite effect. They cause the pelvis to arch forward, curving the spine into an unnatural position and straining the muscles.


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3. Spend More Time in the Sun

Vitamin D is produced in response to direct sunlight on the skin. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Without enough calcium bones can soften, leading to musculoskeletal pain or joint pain. One study tested the vitamin D levels of 150 people who visited a health clinic due to chronic pain. Researchers found that 93% of them had a vitamin D deficiency. Try to get around 15 minutes of sun-exposure every day between 11am and 3pm. If that's not possible, try vitamin D supplements.

4. Change your Mattress

Sleeping on a mattress that doesn't support the curves of the back and alignment of the spine can result in strained back muscles, poor sleeping posture and morning back pain. While many people believe that a firm mattress is best for the back, a study of over 300 people with lower back pain found that a medium-firm mattress provided the most relief. An overly firm mattress puts pressure on the shoulders and hips which may contribute to backache.

5. Practice Pilates

Many chiropractors and physical therapists recommend Pilates exercises for people with back pain. Pilates can help improve several issues that result in back problems such as poor posture, muscular imbalances and pelvic instability. Pilates focuses on developing core strength which enables the back muscles and abdominal muscles to work together to support and stabilize the spine. The exercises also improve flexibility, reducing the risk of back injury as the spine bends and curves. Videos demonstrating Pilates exercises for back pain are available online.

Drug-Free Pain Management

Healthy computer habits
Quality mattress
Omega 3 boost
Comfortable shoes
Consistent good sleep
Chiropratic care & stretching
Weight loss
Extra pillow
Vitamin D

6. Boost your Omega-3

Eating more omega-3 rich oily fish could help reduce your back pain. The typical modern Western diet is rich in inflammation promoting omega-6 fatty acids and poor in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. This imbalance contributes to a number of disorders characterized by pain and inflammation. In one study 250 patients taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for back pain were given fish oil supplements. After 75 days, 59% had stopped taking NSAIDs, 60% noted an overall decrease in pain and 88% said they would continue taking omega-3.

7. Get a Good Night's Sleep

Lack of sleep aggravates back pain. During sleep your body releases growth hormone which stimulates muscle repair. If you do not get adequate sleep, strained back muscles don't have a chance to recover and are less able to support the spine and keep it in alignment. In addition, lack of sleep lowers the pain threshold, intensifying backache. A long-term study involving over 2000 adults found that people with insomnia were one-and-a-half times more likely to eventually develop back pain compared with those got regular sleep.

8. Stretch your Spine

Spine stretching exercises can help reduce pain, tension and stiffness in your lower back. To stretch your spine forwards, start on all fours with your knees directly below your hips and your hands in line with your shoulders. Keeping your hands flat on the floor, slowly move your bottom backwards until it touches your heels. To stretch your spine backwards, lie flat on your stomach with your arms bent at the elbows. Push down on your hands and lift your shoulders to arch your back. Repeat each stretch 10 times a day.

There are a variety of stretching exercises that can be done at one's desk to help keep joints limber and muscles strong.

9. Sleep with an Extra Pillow

An extra pillow can provide support for your back while you sleep and reduce your chances of waking up with back pain. The pillow should be fairly firm. Where you place it depends on your usual sleeping position. If you sleep on your side, a pillow between your knees will help take pressure off your lower back. If you sleep on your back, a pillow under your knees will help your spine to maintain its natural alignment. If you sleep on your stomach, a pillow nested between your hips and abdomen will provide the best back support.

10. Lose Weight

Overweight and obese people often find that their back pain progressively improves as they shed the extra pounds. The lumbar region of the back supports the weight of the entire upper body. The more weight you carry, the greater the strain on the back muscles and joints. Excess fat in the belly region disrupts the body's center of balance and causes the spine to arch. This unnatural curve can compress the discs between the vertebrae or nerves in the spinal column. Losing just 10% of your body weight can lead to a noticeable decrease in pain.


Whatever you do to help your back pain, it's important to remain active. Exercise increases blood flow to the spine and can help reduce pain and inflammation. It also helps to maintain normal back function. Move around as much as you can and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible.

© 2017 Andrew Armstrong


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