We sure know how to pop a pill. Every day, Americans take 80 million aspirin tablets altogether. And the numbers just keep going up.
However, many are fighting back against this pill-popping craze by seeking out natural therapies. There are countless options for natural pain relievers. Instead of reaching for the pill bottle, you may consider a leading alternative: herbal remedies.
In the past, herbal remedies were largely understudied by the medical community. But now, more research points to a handful of key herbs in reducing pain.
If you’re thinking of trying out herbal remedies, why not start with herbs for back pain relief?
We’ll go over how to safely use them as well as which are herbs are best for back pain relief.
Why put the pill bottle away?
Painkillers like aspirin or ibuprofen have long been our society’s go-to solution. Got a headache? Got cramps? Got back pain? The answer is always popping a pill. But using painkillers often can have negative side effects such as liver and kidney damage, or even stomach ulcers. Reliance on painkillers can also lead to increased dosages over time, leading to more serious health effects.
Remember that not all painkiller usage is bad. Depending on your medical situation, they may be an essential part of your care. Be sure to consult your doctor before changing or adapting your care plan.
What are herbal remedies?
Herbs are all-natural plant products that have medicinal properties. They can be incorporated into your daily life in simple, easy ways. In fact, herbal remedies can be taken using three different methods:
- Capsules: A convenient way to get all the herb’s effects. By far the most popular method.
- Tea: The herb is steeped in hot water to drink.
- Topically: The herb comes in a cream or ointment to apply directly to the skin.
Whatever you choose, don’t forget to stay on the safe side. Follow the dosage instructions as stated and start off with small amounts of different herbs to see how your body reacts.
Are there any side effects of herbs?
It’s important to take herbs responsibly because they can cause certain side effects. While uncommon, herbs can trigger allergic reactions or interfere with medications you may be taking. When in doubt, consult your doctor about which herbal remedies may be right for you.
Why use herbs for back pain relief?
Herbs have been widely shown to reduce inflammation. Because back pain commonly results from strained or tense back muscles, anti-inflammatory solutions can be extremely beneficial. Back pain also involves stiffness and reduced range of motion. Some herbs specifically target stiffness and can help you get back into the swing of things.
Because herbs take time to have an effect on your body – sometimes up to weeks or months – they are also ideal for chronic or long-lasting pain. Depending on the herb, it may also prevent future back pain.
Top 3 herbs for back pain relief
Herbs and their medical effects are still being researched and confirmed. However, there are three good evidence-based options for back pain relief, which have shown positive results in recent studies. We’ll give you an overview of these effective herbs for back pain relief.
Devil’s claw is great for reducing inflammation and pain, especially for the shoulders, hips, knees and back. It’s also common for treating arthritis or joint pain, as it’s good for minimizing swelling. Studies for devil’s claw have expressed “strong” evidence for its effectiveness in treating lower back pain.
How to take it: For lower back pain, take 4.5-9 g daily orally (capsule form). Preliminary research suggests it is best taken between meals on an empty stomach. Pain relief will start taking effect within 4-12 weeks.
Side effects: Devil’s claw may cause minor gastrointestinal symptoms. For those with easily upset stomachs, be sure to take a low dosage or try another herb for back pain relief.
Don’t take it if: Anybody with ulcers, gallstones or diarrhea should avoid taking devil’s claw. In addition, if you’re pregnant, don’t take devil’s claw, as the effects on pregnancy are not studied or confirmed.
White willow bark
Named “nature’s aspirin,” white willow bark is an excellent natural pain reliever. White willow bark works by creating prostaglandins, which act as anti-inflammatory agents. It’s especially effective for lower back pain and osteoarthritic conditions because it reduces joint pain, pain intensity and stiffness. In recent trials with white willow bark, 39% of patients experiencing back pain were pain-free within four weeks.
How to take it: White willow bark has best results with 120-140 mg daily (capsule form). In fact, studies suggest that patients taking 240 mg daily showed greater pain relief. You may also be interested in taking white willow bark as a tea. The dosage for tea is weaker, but still could give mild pain relief.
Side effects: There aren’t many known side effects of white willow bark. It may cause minor gastrointestinal symptoms. In rare cases, it may also cause a skin allergy.
Don’t take it if: Be sure to take a low dose if you have a sensitive stomach. In addition, white willow bark should never been taken by anybody under the age of 18 because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome.
Capsaicin is a compound that comes from cayenne chili peppers. It’s known for relieving pain and tenderness, including lower back pain but also joint conditions and muscle sprains. Capsaicin is effective because it blocks pain from reaching your nerves.
How to take it: Capsaicin is used topically as a skin cream or lotion with 0.025%-0.075%. Just apply the affected area daily. For intense pain, capsaicin patches are also available.
Side effects: Some patients experience an allergic reaction, so if you break out in hives or have trouble breathing, call your doctor immediately. In addition, capsaicin can make your skin more susceptible to sun and heat, so take care to cover up when you go outside.
Other herbs for back pain relief
While devil’s claw, white willow bark and capsaicin are the big three herbs for back pain relief, there are countless other herbs that may soothe your pain. These herbs are less studied, but have generally shown good results.
- Turmeric: is a great anti-inflammatory agent, which is ideal for back pain relief. It also has tons of other benefits, including antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial properties. You can take it in capsule form or as a tea. It may have some gastrointestinal side effects, so if you suffer from gallbladder issues or other serious conditions, don’t take this herb. Also, turmeric in capsule form shouldn’t be consumed by pregnant women.
- Ginger: is another great herb to soothe inflammation, especially for back pain caused by muscle injuries or arthritis. It’s also extremely helpful for reducing muscle soreness and nausea. Ginger can be taken as a capsule or tea. It doesn’t have any significant side effects to date.
- Comfrey root: is a herb that significantly helps with back pain relief. In recent studies, those who used comfrey root three times a day showed a 95% reduction in pain. Comfrey root is used as a skin cream or ointment. It should never be drunk as a tea, because of risk to your liver. Side effects may include nausea and cold symptoms.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: While technically not an “herb,” omega-3 is really good for reducing inflammation, whether joint pain, stiffness or back pain. You can take omega-3 daily through fish oil capsules.
Other ways to relieve back pain
There are numerous ways to treat your back pain at home. For best results, you may want to combine herbal remedies with other self-care options.
- Regular exercise: Staying fit is essential for reducing back pain. Low-impact activities like walking or swimming can keep your muscles and joints fluid and flexible. They can also boost strength to better support your back.
- Yoga, pilates or massage therapy: Besides strengthening your core, yoga can also increase flexibility and keep your back muscles from becoming stiff or tense. Yoga is an especially good idea for back pain relief, as well as pilates and massage therapy. Massage therapy can also restore flexibility and reduce back pain.
- Good posture and sleeping position: Pay attention to the way you’re sitting, especially at the office. Avoid slouching or twisting your back during the day. At night, try to sleep on your side, which has positive effects on your back.
- Drink more water: Staying hydrated is important to prevent cramping and stiffness throughout your body, but especially your back. Bring a water bottle with you during the day to remember to drink up.
Talk to your doctor
Self-care for back pain, including herbs and other therapies, can be effective. However, if your back pain doesn’t go away within a week, you may need to visit a doctor or a chiropractor. These experts can put together a holistic care plan for your back pain that involves home remedies like herbs, as well as medical treatment such as massage therapy. Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor and find out what’s best for you.
About Dr. Brent Wells
Dr. Brent Wells is a graduate of the University of Nevada where he earned his bachelor’s of science degree before moving on to complete his doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College. He founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska in 1998. He became passionate about being a chiropractor in Anchorage and he strives to provide each of his patients with compassionate care for an overall better health and well-being.