Lower back pain is the leading cause of absenteeism from work. Up to 80% of adults will experience lower back pain at least once in their lives.
The back muscles and spine support much of the body’s weight. A person uses the muscles for everyday movements, including sitting, standing, and walking. People can also experience pain in other areas, including the neck and middle and upper back.
Over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, may help relieve pain. Once a healthcare professional has ruled out serious conditions, a person may find home remedies to help manage their symptoms.
Home treatments may include the following:
Exercise to get muscles moving
It can be challenging to get up and move when back pain strikes. However, a short walk, aerobics, yoga, water aerobics, swimming, or another low-impact activity can help alleviate back pain.
Exercise may loosen tense muscles and release endorphins, the brain’s natural pain relievers.
A person can consider starting a daily exercise program that includes strength training and stretching to help keep muscles flexible and strong.
Regular exercise may prevent future back pain episodes that are due to tight muscles.
Poor posture can result in nonspecific lower back pain.
Yoga: Yoga may improve mobility and decrease pain while improving mental and physical function.
Pilates: This follows six basic principles, including centering or tightening the torso muscles, concentration, managing posture, precision, flow, and breathing.
Tai chi: This traditional Chinese exercise may help reduce pain and improve function.
Core stability exercises: These exercises improve the coordination and activation of torso muscles. These may help reduce pain, decrease tension and muscle spasms, and improve torso stiffness.
Aerobic exercise: Regular aerobic exercise may improve physical function, muscle endurance, pain, and mental health. The exercise can be high, moderate, or low intensity.
Walking/running: These are cost-effective ways of improving health and strengthening muscles.
Swimming: People may suggest swimming for back strength, as the water supports muscles. However, there are few studies on its effectiveness in treating lower back pain.
Some people may also find cycling helpful for lower back pain.
More tips to improve posture include:
Considering posture when sitting, standing, or walking: A person should try to lift the head and pull the shoulders back, rather than slumping forward and tightening abdominal muscles.
Avoiding repetitive postures: Lifting heavy items or sitting for long periods may result in back pain.
Standing correctly: Distributing weight on both sides of the body rather than leaning on one leg or side.
Being aware of posture and trying to correct it may seem difficult at first, but it can help reduce the possibility of future injuries.
Use heat and cold
A person can use hot and cold packs to reduce swelling and soothe the pain.
People use ice packs directly after an injury, such as a strain. Applying an ice pack wrapped in a towel directly to the back can reduce inflammation.
Cold may provide a numbing effect for sudden, intense back pain. People can use special pain relief cold packs or a bag of ice or frozen vegetables covered with a towel to protect the skin from frostbite. Apply ice packs for up to 20 minutes maximum.
A heat pad can soothe an achy back, increasing blood flow, which enables healing. A person should follow instructions carefully to avoid burns or scalds from the heat pad. Heat pads can supply immediate relief.
If a heat pad is unavailable, a person can use a hot water bottle or heat a cloth bag of uncooked rice in the microwave.
The following stretches may help relieve back pain. A person should hold each stretch for 30 seconds or as long as it feels comfortable.
Touching the toes: In addition to stretching the hamstrings, bending forward to reach the toes will help loosen the muscles in the lower back.
Cobra Pose: Lying on their stomach, with hands face down beside the shoulders, a person should gently lift their chest so that the top of their head points toward the ceiling.
Cat-Cow Pose: Beginning on hands and knees, a person should slowly alternate between arching their back toward the ceiling and dipping it toward the floor.
Child’s Pose: Sitting on the heels with knees hip-width apart, a person should lean forward to place their head on the floor, stretching arms out in front of the head.
Apply a pain-relief cream
A variety of pain-relief creams that can provide some relief from back pain are available in pharmacies and online.
Pain-relief creams that contain menthol have a cooling effect that can temporarily dull back pain.
Find out the best pain-relief creams for back pain.
Massage may offer short-term benefits for lower back pain. Soft tissue massage can involve kneading, friction, gliding, vibration, or percussion techniques. A person may use massage in conjunction with other treatments.
Soft tissue manipulation encourages mental and physical relaxation through the release of endorphins. Manipulation may involve hands or a mechanical device.
There are few risks or adverse effects when using massage — however, a person should not receive massage if they have:
- a skin infection or severe inflammation
- a burn
- any non-healed fractures
- an active cancer tumor site
- deep vein thrombosis
Arnica is a homeopathic remedy that people can apply directly to the skin to treat muscle pain, swelling, bruising, and minor injuries.
While there is little scientific research to prove that Arnica is effective, it has a low risk of side effects, and some people may find it helpful.
A case report found that Arnica helped relieve chronic osteoarthritis pain when combined with acupuncture and massage.
Wearing unstable shoes, high heels, or ill-fitting shoes may result in lower back pain. A study found a link between wearing high heels for long periods and having back pain.
Wearing very flat shoes also strains the feet and back.
Switching to comfortably fitted shoes can help to ease lower back pain. Some people may need orthotics to correctly support their feet.
Make workstation changes
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the United States, a proper workstation may help reduce back pain and other injuries.
A person should ensure their computer screen is at eye level and that their chair is at the correct height.
If a person does any lifting for their job, they should squat and use their legs — not their back — for support. It is best to ask for help or use trolleys when moving very heavy objects.
Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep may affect how much pain a person can tolerate,
Most adults need 7–9 hours of sleep a night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Proper comfort and back alignment are essential for sleep quality and avoiding back pain in the morning.
Extra pillows can help align the spine in the proper position while sleeping. Head pillows should support the curve of the neck comfortably. When sleeping on the side, a pillow between the knees can keep the spine aligned.
A person should speak with a healthcare professional if lack of sleep continues to be a problem.
Make diet changes
A study found that people with chronic spinal pain were more likely to follow a diet low in whole grains, dairy, and fruit.
Added sugars could also increase the risk of spinal pain. Calorie intake was similar to people who ate a diet including recommended amounts of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and dairy.
Anti-inflammatory foods may help reduce pain. They include:
- wholegrain foods
- fruit and vegetables, including leafy green vegetables
- some spices, including turmeric and ginger
- green tea
- black pepper
- Foods that may make inflammation worse include:
- highly refined flour or gluten
- refined sugars
- dairy products
some vegetables, including tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes
Manage or reduce stress
Moderate to high levels of stress may link to lower back pain. To relieve stress, a person can try:
Mindfulness meditation: A study found that mindfulness helped a group of older adults cope with pain. Mindfulness is a mind-body therapy that involves being aware of what the body is doing.
Deep breathing: A study found that deep breathing could help people stabilize their torso with breathing exercises.
Progressive muscle relaxation: Tensing and relaxing muscles in the body, focusing on one muscle group at a time, may help relieve lower back pain.
Guided imagery: This involves focusing on specific mental images to bring about a feeling of relaxation and help reduce stress.
Many smartphone apps can guide a person through relaxation techniques and meditation.
People can often treat back pain with home remedies and some patience. However, a person should speak with a healthcare professional about chronic or severe back pain.
A healthcare professional may recommend physical therapy, medication, or other treatments. People with existing health conditions or who take regular medications should speak with a medical professional before trying herbal medications or supplements.
Lower back pain is a common health issue resulting in limited activity and difficulty carrying out everyday activities. A person experiencing severe or sudden back pain should see a healthcare professional.
Home remedies can help with lower back pain. Heat pads can help with pain, alongside nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). A person can also use ice packs for fresh injuries and heat packs for aches.
Movement is beneficial for lower back pain. A person can incorporate regular exercise into their daily routine to keep muscles strong. Some exercises may help minimize the risk of lower back pain due to strengthening the torso muscles.
A person can make a few lifestyle changes to reduce back pain, such as switching shoes and changing their workstation.
Eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep may help reduce lower back pain.