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Back Pain Relief Secrets That Really Work

Doctors reveal 10 ways to help stop back pain. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Anyone who has experienced back pain knows how debilitating and miserable it can be. The pain can range from a shooting pain to a burning sensation that may be felt down your leg and worsen with walking or standing. According to Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, "Some 16 million adults — 8 percent of all adults — experience persistent or chronic back pain, and as a result are limited in certain everyday activities. Back pain is the sixth most costly condition in the United States." Dr. Theodore Strange, Chair of Medicine at Staten Island University Hospital tells Eat This, Not That! Health, "Back pain is a very common complaint and one of the most common medical complaints amongst patients. The symptoms can be acute or chronic, sharp or dull, intermittent or constant." He adds, "The most common cause of back pain may be related to muscle strain, ligament sprain, degenerative disc disease and or disc herniation, arthritic changes, scoliosis, spinal stenosis where cord is caught in a narrow canal, and fractures." ETNT Health spoke with experts who explain their tricks to help ease the discomfort. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Take Ibuprofen

Woman holding a pill in her hand.

Dr. Steve Hruby, a Doctor of Chiropractic and founder at Kaizen Progressive Health says, "Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that can help reduce inflammation and pain. NSAIDs work by blocking the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals that contribute to inflammation and pain."

Brett Edmunds, a Chiropractor of Paramount Health and a fitness expert adds, "Take over-the-counter pain relievers. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are two of the most popular options, and they can help reduce inflammation and pain."


Ice and Heat

woman putting ice pack on back

Dr. Hruby explains, "Applying heat to the area can help relax tense muscles and increase blood flow.Increased blood flow can help bring nutrients and oxygen to the area, which can promote healing. Heat may also help to reduce pain and inflammation."

"Apply ice or heat," Edmunds says. "This is one of the most popular methods for relieving back pain, and it's often effective because it can reduce inflammation."


Get Moving

woman relaxes while doing yoga by the water

"Gentle exercises, such as stretching or yoga, can help increase blood flow to the area and reduce pain," Dr. Hruby states. "Exercising can help improve flexibility and strength, which can help reduce the risk of future injuries. Exercising may also help to reduce pain and inflammation."


Flexion-Based Exercises


Rafael E. Salazar, an occupational therapist and owner of ProActive Rehabilitation & Wellness says, "Stretches and exercises involving spinal flexion can help relieve pain, if the symptoms are a result of spinal stenosis. A simple exercise is the common 'floor touch' stretch. Stand up with your apart. Slowly bend forward, reaching towards the floor. Hold for several seconds. Slowly return to the upright position. This helps restore some normal mobility, and also works to help retrain the nervous system about safe movement. As mentioned in the pain section above: pain is the nervous system's alarm signal. Sometimes, especially in instances of low back pain (which is a common cause of chronic pain), safe, controlled movement is the best pain medication there is. It improves motion while also teaching the nervous system that movement is ok, safe, and not a danger." 


See a Good Physical Therapist

Happy female physiotherapist giving leg massage to active senior woman in sports center

Salazar states, "Research suggests that early referrals to physical therapy for acute onset low back pain or sciatica improved disability and other outcomes when compared to usual, wait-and-see care. Current research suggests that physical therapy treatment should include exercises to reduce pain and discomfort, techniques for improving functional spinal movement, walking and dynamic posture, and manual therapy and cardiovascular exercise."


Get in the Pool

Close up image of a beautiful female swimmer in a swimming pool getting ready to train.

"Aquatic therapy has been shown to reduce pain and increase physical function in patients with low back pain," says Salazar. "The physical properties of water (buoyancy, laminar flow, hydrostatic pressure, and heat) can allow people to participate in exercises and activities that they might not be able to do on land. It can be a great way to start off with some early movement, in an environment that reduces the stress on the back and also begins building the strength and endurance you'll need to begin setting the stage for long-term relief from low back pain." 


OMT Treatments

Shot of a doctor explaining a medical procedure with a model to a senior patient while sitting in her office

Dr. Christina Hector DO, Sports and Family MedicineSpecialist with Onyx Direct Care states, "Osteopathic ManipulationTreatments (OMT) treat dysfunctions of the body, including acute and chronic musculoskeletal conditions such as back pain. OMT uses different manual techniques of musculoskeletal adjustments performed by the physician. Search For physicians with a Doctor of Osteopathic degree (D.O.) who perform osteopathic manipulation treatments."


​​Use Good Posture

young woman sitting at desk with back pain
Shutterstock / Andrey_Popov

According to Dr. Kevin Lees, D.C., manager of auditing and quality, from The Joint Chiropractic, "Using correct posture is something that very few people are natural at. Instead, it is reported that many find themselves slouching as a natural way of life. Chiropractors suggest that falling into the habit of slouching can cause shifting in the joints of the spine, which can lead to restriction and ultimately pain. Chiropractors also say that when you find yourself falling into this bad habit, that you take the time to stretch, take a brief walk, and intentionally correct the slouch. This can help train the body to use proper posture more often. Before you know it, this posture may be part of your daily life, which can help manage back pain."


Get Adjusted

Physiotherapist doing healing treatment on man's back

"More than 35 million Americans see a chiropractor annually," says Dr. Lees. "Chiropractic adjustments may not only help your back pain, but also help to restore joint function and improve energy. Your chiropractor can help address the problem causing your back pain by recommending certain exercises, ergonomic office equipment, and working with you to help set health goals so your back pain doesn't turn into something chronic."

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Go to Bed


Dr. Lees states, "Most do not realize the importance of sleep. It is imperative when trying to prevent illness and pain. Chiropractors admit that where there is sleep deprivation, the body doesn't heal properly overnight, and your stress rises. An increase in stress can make you more sensitive to pain. Research suggests that getting plenty of sleep can be a great way to help keep back pain at bay. It is recommended that the average adult get at least six hours of sleep each night. Still, there are many who need much more rest than this." 

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When to Seek Medical Treatment

doctor with X-ray and senior patient in clinic. Knee problem

Dr. Hruby says, "Back pain can often be treated with over-the-counter medications and self-care measures, such as ice packs and rest. However, when the pain is severe or lasts for more than a few days, it's time to seek medical treatment. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain that doesn't improve after a few days of self-care measures
  • Pain that radiates down one or both legs
  • Trouble urinating or having a bowel movement
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in one or both legs
  • Fever"

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What Causes Back Pain

tired young woman with back pain sitting on the bed at home

Dr. David D Clarke MD President, Psychophysiologic Disorders Association explains, "Most people assume that all back pain is caused by a problem in the structures of the back where the pain is felt. But it turns out there is a second cause of back pain that is 3-5x more common and that is pain generated by the brain. The process is analogous to phantom limb pain in which patients perceive pain at the location of an amputated limb. This pain too, is generated by the brain. The cause of pain generated by the brain is one or more forms of stress. Stress can change the anatomy of the nerves in the brain so that signals from the body are perceived differently (ie as pain) than they would be otherwise. Common stressors linked to physical symptoms include current life issues, limitations in self-care skills, the prolonged impact of adverse childhood experiences and certain common mental health issues including depression, anxiety and PTSD. The treatment for this cause of pain is to identify the stressors and treat them. New forms of psychological treatment that can do this successfully have been developed in recent years and studied in controlled trials. I am attaching some powerpoint slides that illustrate the key findings from several different studies. The relief of pain achieved by these techniques is significantly better than previous forms of treatment. One of the studies (Ashar et al) even found anatomic changes in the brain as a result of the psychological treatment."

Dr. Lees says, "Back pain is one of the most frequent complaints for adults and there are many reasons why back pain may occur. These include:

  • Lifting Things the Wrong Way: From carrying heavy boxes at home to picking up large pieces of equipment at work, lifting the wrong way can be a serious problem. Chiropractors recommend lifting with the knees and not twisting or lifting with your back. It is also important to limit the size and weight of items that must be carried. Get help from a friend, family member or coworker before trying to carry an oversized box.
  • Accidents: Falls and other accidents are a frequent source of back pain. Whether a person lands on a linoleum floor or the pavement outside, injuries to the spine can be an enormous issue. Pay attention to your surroundings and always wear comfortable shoes. Avoid situations that increase the risk of falling or tripping.
  • Sports Injuries: From a workout at the gym to a football game with family, sports injuries are a common cause of back pain. Sprains and strains can occur at home or the gym. They can also happen while you are playing outside. Make sure a warm-up occurs before a workout. Do not push past the pain or ignore early signs of an injury. Chiropractors also recommend working out with a partner or friend, so they can help.
  • Arthritis: Arthritis can affect the spine and other parts of the body. The lower back is a frequent target for certain types of arthritis. You may have pain and stiffness in this area. Sometimes the pain can radiate to the hips or legs. It can be difficult to bend down or pick up things. Many people experience pain that is worse in the morning or immediately after they get up. Chiropractors may help reduce the pain caused by arthritis. They may also recommend exercises and stretches that are safe for people who have this medical condition."
Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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