For many people there is no single or certain cure for lower back pain; it often takes a process of trial and error to find what works best for you.
Traditional medical approaches will usually focus on addressing the anatomical problems in your lower back, but for many people more of a multifaceted approach will do a better job at keeping the pain at bay.
The following list—compiled from our readers and from the doctors who write for this site—includes remedies that are often overlooked or underemphasized in the traditional medical model:
1. Release your inner endorphins
Endorphins are hormones made naturally in your body. What most people don't know is that they can be just as strong as any manufactured pain medication. When endorphins are released in your body, they help block pain signals from registering with your brain. Endorphins also help alleviate anxiety, stress, and depression, which are all associated with chronic back pain and often make the pain worse.
Try the following activities to release these feel-good messengers:
2. Get enough restorative sleep
Pain is a leading cause of insomnia—difficulty with falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Approximately two-thirds of people with chronic back pain suffer from some type of sleep disorder. Paradoxically, inadequate sleep can make your back pain worse. This vicious cycle makes it ineffective to treat just the pain. If you have sleep problems, you need to get the sleep problems addressed too.
There are many options for treating sleep problems that accompany chronic lower back pain—see Chronic Pain and Insomnia: Breaking the Cycle.
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3. Exercise your core
The muscles in your abs and back play a critical role in supporting your lower spine. These muscles don't get a good workout during the course of a normal day—they need to be specifically targeted through exercise.
There are many simple exercises that can be performed in 20 to 30 minutes as part of your daily routine. If you are just starting out, even a simple act of sitting upright on an exercise ball for 30 minutes a day will engage your core muscles.
4. Soothe the pain with cold and/or hot
Don't underestimate the pain reduction of simply applying cold packs and/or hot packs to help reduce your lower back pain and spur the healing process.
Cold application has two primary benefits:
- It reduces inflammation, which is usually a culprit in any type of back pain.
- It acts as a local anesthetic by slowing down nerve impulses, which keeps the nerves from spasming and causing pain.
Heat application has two primary benefits:
- It stimulates blood flow, which brings healing nutrients to the affected area of the low back.
- It inhibits the pain messages being sent to the brain.
Heat can come in many forms, and it's best to try several to find what works best for you. Taking a hot bath or shower, soaking in a hot tub, or using a heating pad, hot water bottle, or heat wrap that provides continuous, low-level heat are all ways to bring healing warmth to your lower back.
5. Stretch your hamstrings twice daily
One often overlooked contributor to lower back pain is tight hamstrings. If your hamstring muscles—located in the back of your thighs—are too tight hamstrings your lower back and sacroiliac joints will be stressed, leading to more pain. Hamstring stretching should be done carefully and at least twice per day.
There are many gentle stretching exercises that should not hurt.
6. Engage your brain
Pain specialists have long understood that pain is not absolute; it is more complicated than just a sensation. The way your brain interprets and processes pain signals plays an important role in how you perceive your pain.
Read more: Modern Theories of Chronic Pain
The good news is that you can develop skills for your brain to reduce or ignore the pain signals. Developing expertise in these skills can go a long way to help you have some degree of influence over your pain.
Bonus Tip: Find activities that make you happy
Ongoing pain can wreak havoc on your life, affecting your cherished relationships, finances, and your ability to get stuff done at work and at home. It can also interrupt your sleep and affect your mood. Because many other problems commonly occur along with chronic lower back pain, anything you can do for yourself that is a natural anti-depressant will help.
Some people find that even doing just 3 things that make them feel good each day, such as enjoying a comforting cup of tea or coffee, calling an old friend, walking the dog, or receiving a longish 30-second hug from a loved one can make pain more tolerable.
Even if you are in severe pain and are undergoing extensive medical treatments, we encourage you to still try to remember the simple things you can do for yourself to help heal and get stronger and healthier over time.