After a move, you find that your back is aching from all the boxes. Or maybe a day of yard work has your back throbbing.
Or maybe you’re finding that your back pain is more constant these days, and more frequent.
Can you treat back pain at home, though? Do you always need to see a doctor? What about alternative therapies?
A quick search on the internet will bring up all kinds of home remedies and while some might seem dubious, such as the practice of “earthing,” which reportedly will cure your back if you walk barefoot on wet grass or sand to supply your body with electrons from the earth, a few really do work.
For instance, yoga. The Annals of Internal Medicine published a recent report that revealed that adults that participated in 12 weeks of yoga classes reported greater back function than those who were treated with anti-inflammatory medicines only.
But yoga comes with a caveat, says Stephen Wolters, a physical therapy coordinator at Texas Health Southwest Fort Worth.
“As a physical therapist, it has been a common experience that patients with back pain expect doing yoga to solve their problem,” he explains. “Unfortunately, some of the poses in yoga are really not good for patients with certain types of back pain.”
To determine what will work for a particular patient, Wolters often asks the patient to show him what they are trying to do.
“I ask the patient to show me what they are doing, or bring in a book to show me what poses they are attempting,” Wolters says. “Sometimes a reasonable modification of the pose can be used, but at other times I advise certain poses, or any pose that places their body in a position that makes their condition worse to be avoided.
“While I appreciate the benefits of yoga for enhancing flexibility and core stabilization, yoga is not a one-size-fits-all solution.”
Changes in diet can help, if nothing else, because if a patient is overweight, extra weight can exacerbate back pain.
Wolters says that while there’s no special diet just for back pain relief, adjustments in diet can sometimes help.
“It is very hard to say what ‘works’ because many times things work largely due to the expectation of them working,” he says, adding that his current nutritional focus is eating a plant-based whole food diet, which also happens to be one of the nine Blue Zones tenets.
Massage was also an effective back pain reliever. Another study, also published in AIM, found that chronic low back pain sufferers who got weekly massages reported less pain after 10 weeks than those who didn’t. Experts say this is most effective when your back pain is muscular in origin, though.
Researchers have also found that acupuncture is effective, but recommend making sure that you find a reputable provider through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
What may not work? Researchers have found that the effectiveness of transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation, or TENS, is not as great as they thought. Although you can buy a TENS unit over the counter at any drug store, the American Academy of Neurology says that there is little evidence that the devices are effective for chronic low back pain.
Detoxing is another cure that comes up frequently on Google searches and Pinterest boards. However, experts warn that the body has its own methods of detoxing, and the efficacy of detox diets and other regimens is doubtful.
“The human body can defend itself very well against most environmental insults and the effects of occasional indulgence,” an article from the Harvard Medical School explains. “If you’re generally healthy, concentrate on giving your body what it needs to maintain its robust self-cleaning system—a healthful diet, adequate fluid intake, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and all recommended medical check-ups.
“If you experience fatigue, pallor, unexplained weight gain or loss, changes in bowel function, or breathing difficulties that persist for days or weeks, visit your doctor instead of a detox spa,” it adds.
Heat is often another recommendation. But if you’ve been reaching for that heating pad, Rob Dickerman, D.O., Ph.D., neurosurgeon and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Plano, says that’s actually not a good idea.
“Ice and anti-inflammatories at first,” he says. “Never heat—just ice the sore area and the muscles.”
If you’re wondering when back pain is bad enough to see a doctor—or if you can tough it out with home treatment—you’re not alone. The Centers for Disease Control found that lower back pain affects about a third of all women and a quarter of all men, but a survey by the American Physical Therapy Association found that 31 percent of men acknowledged when their condition affects work compared to 20 percent of women. The same APTA survey found that 37 percent do not seek professional help for back pain relief.
So how do you treat a backache at home? “When your day-to-day life has been compromised, it’s time to seek professional help,” Dickerman adds.
“Back pain is an incredibly common problem being the second most [common] reason people [consult] their doctors. It can affect people at any age,” agrees Cortland Miller, M.D., a physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Allen. “The fortunate thing about back pain, though, is that the vast majority of patients will get better with back pain with a little time.
“Typically 50 percent of patients will recover within two weeks, 70 percent by a month and 90 percent by 3 to 4 months, just from the natural course of an episode of low back pain, even without treatment,” he adds.
Curious about your spine health? Take the Back Health Assessment to measure your back pain or visit YourBackHealth.com for more information. Ready to schedule an appointment? Call 214-612-7033 today and an associate will help you find a back and spine specialist on the medical staff near you or begin your search online.