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Drug-Free ways to Relieve Back Pain

Updated on January 31, 2013
Strengthening core muscles, as is done in Pilates, may help to ease acute and chronic back pain.
Strengthening core muscles, as is done in Pilates, may help to ease acute and chronic back pain. | Source

Low Back Pain Statistics

Annually, 5 percent of Americans experience low back pain
Over a lifetime, 85 percent of Americans will have experienced low back pain
Low back pain is the 5th most common reasons for doctor visits
Only one-fifth to one-fourth of people with low back pain see a doctor
30 percent to 60 percent of people with low back pain recover within a week
60 percent to 90 percent of people with low back pain recover within six weeks
95 percent of people with low back pain recover within 12 weeks
5 percent of people with low back pain develop chronic, disabling pain

Back Pain Relief Without Drugs

Treatment for back pain is the fifth most common reason that causes people to seek medical treatment in the United States. At least $50 billion is spent each year by Americans in the diagnosis and treatment of low back pain.

Even with these expenditures, many people with unrelenting or non-healing back pain would likely spend even more if they could be freed from the pain, disability and life-restricting discomfort of their back pain.

Medical experts do all they can to diagnose the cause of your back pain and develop a treatment plan intended to aid in the healing of that cause. Prescription pain relievers are often ordered by your doctor; sometimes they bring relief of pain, sometimes they don't. What the pain pills often do, however, is create an addiction to them, through no direct fault of the prescriber or the patient -- but addiction nonetheless.

There are drug-free approaches to relieving back pain that you may want to investigate and/or try. Before beginning any technique or treatment not directly ordered by the doctor, you should consult your doctor to ensure no additional harm or injury is foreseen by the medical professional. No technique or treatment is totally without potential for an adverse reaction, even if you know a handful of people who have used it successfully. Your individual health situation will determine what is safe for you.

A Word of Caution About Claims for Back Pain Cures

Given that back pain is such a prevalent health problem, one that sees expenditures in excess of $50 billion/year in the United States alone, it is little wonder that unscrupulous people try to take advantage of those experiencing back pain, acute or chronic.

Beware online or other media ads that claim to be able to cure your back pain. That's a general blanket statement for a symptom that has any number of causes. If an ad such as this catches your attention, proceed with caution. Research the company and the alleged "cure" for back pain. Remember to consult with your health care provider before trying any new technique/method or product -- and do so before you spend your hard-earned money on a maybe.

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Back Pain Relief Wirelessly and Drug-Free

TENS Electrode Placement for Chronic Back Pain

The Value of Nutrition in Back Pain Relief

The science of nutrition is one that is rapidly evolving as new research reveals more about nutritive values, combinations of food and so much more. Although there is a plethora of information available that touts itself as THE nutrition answer of back pain treatment, the generally accepted information about how you can use good nutrition to help heal your back and alleviate back pain is this:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet each day that provides enough calories to maintain your weight -- or, if you are overweight -- will help to promote weight loss. When your back is carrying extra weight around, it puts extra stress on your back muscles, especially those of the lower back.
  • Be sure to eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. These foods are high in nutrients, including antioxidants that may ease the inflammation that contributes to your chronic back pain. These foods, as well as whole grain foods, provide fiber, a natural method to prevent constipation -- something that sometimes occurs from the use of pain medication or as a side effect of back pain.
  • Manage your cholesterol levels by avoiding high-fat content foods, hydrogenated food products and saturated fats. Elevated LDL cholesterol levels are associated with arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis -- narrowing and hardening of the arteries. When these conditions are present, it can be more difficult to get good blood flow to areas that are trying to heal. Good blood flow promotes healing.

When your diet supplies all the required nutrients, vitamins and minerals to promote your best health, healing to all parts of your body is enhanced.

Drug-Free Back Pain Relief

You may find one or more methods to relieve back pain that are totally drug-free.
You may find one or more methods to relieve back pain that are totally drug-free. | Source

The Use of Heat and Cold as Back Pain Remedies

The use of heat or an ice pack is well known for a new injury. If you injure your back, medical experts advise the use of an ice pack for the first 24 hours. Ice helps to reduce the swelling that comes from the body's response to injury and may limit tissue damage.

Always cover the ice pack with a towel or other cloth; don't put the ice directly on your skin. Leave the ice pack in place to the injured area for 10 to 20 minutes, then remove for the same amount of time. You can repeat the cycle as needed.

For more long term back pain, whether you use heat or ice for pain relief is really an issue of personal preference. You may try a heating pad or hot water bottle to the area of pain or tenderness and find it does little to relieve the pain. Try an ice pack instead, using the cautions mentioned above, to see if the coldness eases the pain.

Avoid sleeping on a heating pad unless advised otherwise by your health care provider. You could cause injury to your skin if the heat is too high or used too long at a time.

Foot Reflexology Is One of the Remedies for Back Pain

Foot reflexology is one of many alternative medicine practices/techniques that may reduce or eliminate your back pain.
Foot reflexology is one of many alternative medicine practices/techniques that may reduce or eliminate your back pain. | Source

Alternative Medicine Therapies for Back Pain Management

Nearly all of the alternative and complementary medicine therapies, whether movement-oriented, supplementation with various herbs and natural remedies, or the mind-body practices have been around for hundreds of years. Western medicine -- traditional medicine -- is beginning to embrace some of these therapies and incorporate their use as scientific research provides evidence of positive outcomes.

Don't get caught in the trap of thinking that simply because something is natural or herbal it must be safe. Anything taken into the body whether orally, absorbed through the skin, or other means has the potential to cause side effects or adverse reactions. Thoroughly research dietary supplements, herbs and other natural therapies before considering their use at reliable sources such as the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NCCAM, or the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

Here's a brief look at some of the alternative/complementary therapies that may provide drug-free relief of your back pain:

  • Yoga: Researchers in the United Kingdom developed a study for the use of yoga in relieving recurrent or chronic low back pain, following over 300 participants in 13 locations over a 12-month period. Researchers concluded that after a 12-week yoga program, the adult participants with recurrent or chronic lower back pain had more improvement in back functioning than participants who received usual care; these same findings bore out at 3, 6 and 12-month intervals after the start of the research. Additional scientific research about yoga and back pain: Effects of Yoga on Mental and Physical Health
  • Foot reflexology: There has been little scientific research into this method of pain relief, but there are people who have used it and found some relief. It's a method you can easily learn to do yourself and is based on theories of acupressure. Scientific research: Is Reflexology an Effective Intervention?
  • Acupuncture: Another alternative/complementary therapy with a long history of use in Asia, and more recently in Europe and other westernized areas of the world, acupuncture has received a fair amount of attention in the scientific research community. Research outcomes have been variable as to the effectiveness of acupuncture in the relief of back pain: Hegu Acupuncture for Chronic Low Back Pain; A Randomized Trial Comparing Acupuncture, Simulated Acupuncture and Usual Care for Chronic Low Back Pain; Acupuncture for Low Back Pain.
  • Tai Chi: In a randomized, controlled trial in Australia with 160 participants ranging in age from 18 years to 70 years and each with nonspecific persistent (chronic) low back pain, half of the participants were provided 18 40-minute tai chi sessions with a qualified instructor in a 10-week period while the other half of the participants continued with their regular health care. At the end of the 10-week period, the participants who'd practiced tai chi reported improvement in back pain intensity, the "bothersomeness" of the back pain and improved ability to move. Researchers concluded that tai chi is a safe and effective practice for those experiencing chronic low back pain.

Clinical Research Trials and Back Pain

Sometimes you've seemed to try everything your doctor and other medical providers have ordered or suggested and still find no satisfactory relief from your back pain. Or maybe you are a person interested in science and medicine and would like to participate in the research process. You might have chronic back pain but lack health insurance or the financial means to try drug-free approaches for pain relief.

Whatever your motivation is, you may wish to consider participating in a clinical research trial. Nearly all legitimately-based research will pay for your medical care related to the specifics of the research in which you are participating, will provide the research-based care or therapy of the trial itself at no cost to you and may offer reimbursement for travel expenses. In return, you agree to whatever the specifics of the trial may be -- this is all discussed and agreed upon before the research begins.

If you are interested in participating in clinical research for back pain, visit; type "back pain" into the search box. You'll then be able to scroll through the likely hundreds of clinical trials that are in various stages of progress. On the left hand side of the information, you will find which clinical trials are recruiting participants. If you find such a clinical trial that interests you, click on the name of the clinical trial itself and you'll find all the relevant information, including specifics for the participants the trial is seeking.

The information presented here is educational in nature. It is not intended to replace or be a substitute for professional medical care. Consult your health care provider before beginning any new technique or treatment, including exercise.

If you are currently taking prescription pain pills, do not discontinue their use without consulting your doctor.


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    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Prokidwriter I appreciate your read and comments. I'm sorry to hear you injured your back. Do you still have pain or limited function from the injury? Have you continued practicing yoga and using the TENS unit? Also curious...did your doctor recommend the yoga and/or TENS and if not, how did you come upon these methods for yourself?

    • prokidwriter profile image

      KA Hanna 

      5 years ago from America's Finest City

      Very nice hub, lots of great information! I hurt my back last year and found yoga and TENS to be very helpful.

    • Mark S Waterhouse profile image

      Mark S Waterhouse 

      5 years ago from Christchurch, NZ.

      Very thorough, cheers

      I have an L5-S1 bulging disc that impinge a nerve every now and again. After an MRI, and a chat to the radiologist, we decided increasing core strength was the way to go (over surgical intervention.) It works well, and I can tell when I've been lazy, or too ambitious — when you get the balance right it works a treat.

    • RTalloni profile image


      5 years ago from the short journey

      Interesting, with good practical information and helpful resources/links. Thanks for a well done post on managing back pain without drugs. I use the very helpful yoga exercise Eye-of-the-Needle, along with other exercises.

      Pinning to my Solve It board.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Interesting article L.L. Back pain can be such a miserable thing, and is so common. I found a really good chiropractor about a year ago, and have not had any problems since. The relief is amazing, and appreciated on a daily basis.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 

      5 years ago from Asia

      A very comprehensive and useful hub! You give lots of tips that are well balanced with warnings. Often it is a combination strategy that works best.

      Shared, pinned, tweeted, up and useful.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Thanks, Gail. I'm happy to learn you found the information useful. Appreciate your read, comment and vote.

    • Gail Meyers profile image

      Gail Meyers 

      5 years ago from Kansas City - United States

      Wow, this hub contains a lot of valuable information! Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Timetraveler2, thank you for the read and your kind words. There is so much to write about in ways to relieve back pain without the use of drugs that I feel as if I've barely scratched the surface. Hopefully the information here will at least inspire those people with back pain to look a little deeper into the many options available.

      Thank you for the vote, too.

    • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

      Sondra Rochelle 

      5 years ago from USA

      This was an extremely well written and complete article that supplied vital and meaningful information to people that need it. Thanks for sharing and voted up.


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