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8 Expert-Approved Home Remedies for Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most common complaints that bring patients into doctors’ offices. Although you should always see a doctor if your pain is severe, there are ways to relieve back pain at home

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Back pain remedy: Cold

Icing is key when you are experiencing lower back soreness and/or pain, shares Jennifer L. Solomon, MD, a physiatrist and an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.  “It is also critical post exercise to reduce inflammation and promote pain control.”  If you are experiencing radiating pain into the lower extremities, continue to ice the lower back rather than the legs, she says.  The US National Library of Medicine backs up this advice, suggesting that individuals use ice for the first 48 to 72 hours, then switch to heat. These are 10 surprising reasons your back hurts.

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Back pain remedy: Heat

Heat therapy should be your go-to after a weekend warrior move gone wrong, such as over-aggressive mulching in your garden or an injury form moving furniture, says Justin J. Park, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon with The Maryland Spine Center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. “Strains and pulls respond better to heat.” Heat helps to ease the strained muscle and reduce tension and can help to increase range of motion and reduce pain.  Don’t let the heating pad get too hot and don’t use it for more than an hour or so at a time.  Heat that’s too intense may hurt your skin, leading to more problems. You can also loosen the tension with these expert-recommended back massagers

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Back pain remedy: Over-the-counter medications

Other back pain remedies that work fast are over-the-counter pain medication, Dr. Park says.  Tylenol, or acetaminophen, is really not recommended for muscular strains and sprains. If you’ve hurt your back, the best remedy is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, or NSAID. Common NSAIDs include Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen). These medications have anti-inflammatory effects to reduce pain. By keeping inflammation low, your pain is decreased, and you are better able to move. But be careful, Dr. Park says. There are times that ibuprofen won’t work—and could be dangerous.

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Back pain remedy: Rest

Rest is vital when you are trying to relieve back pain naturally. “We aren’t talking about bedrest though,” Dr. Park says. Take two or three days off from your usual activities such as going to the gym, which could make the pain worse and lead to further injury of the musculature of the back.  But gentle stretching and light walking should be okay, he adds. In fact, exercise is thought to be beneficial in terms of preventing and relieving chronic low back pain. For example, this 2018 review of randomized controlled trials, which was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that people who exercised had a 33% lower risk of back pain than those who did not. And in people who did get lower back pain, exercise reduced the severity and disability associated with it. The researchers recommended strengthening with either stretching or aerobic exercise 2 to 3 days per week. Here are some exercises that can help make back pain better.

Neck and shoulder pain after exercise and training, office syndome for worker pain patch1989studio/Shutterstock

Back pain remedy: Muscle creams and patches

Another way to cure back pain at home is to use muscle creams and patches. Many different companies make these products, but the two most popular are Ben Gay and Icy Hot. The medication in the patch or cream works to “confuse” the nerve endings in your back muscles. By making them feel hot or cold, they are distracted from the pain of the muscle tissue. In addition, the heat from these patches goes a long way toward soothing the muscles that have been strained or sprained. Large patches are probably more convenient, but creams may work better if your muscles are strained higher up on the back, to the side, or over a large area. Don’t miss these lower back pain relief treatments that really work.

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Back pain remedy: Try a rub

There are a host of over-the-counter and prescription pain relieving gels, Dr. Park says.  “BenGay, Doans and other over-the-counter rubs provide relief, and prescription strength anti-inflammatory creams are great for people who can’t tolerate taking them by mouth,” he says. Ask a  loved one to massage the cream into your back if you can’t reach the sore spot. These creams may help relieve pain on the inside of your knee too.

Doctor consulting with patient Back problems Physical therapy conceptJoyseulay/Shutterstock

Back pain remedy: Know when to call in the doctor

Self-treating back pain with home remedies makes sense to a point, says Dr. Park. “Give it a week or two but if after a few weeks, your pain is not getting better, getting worse or is severe at night, see a doctor to find out what else may help.” Find out the 15 everyday habits that are causing back pain and damaging your spine. 

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Medically reviewed by Jill Silverman, MD, on April 06, 2020