Back pain is a nearly universal experience. At some point in our lives, about 80 percent of us will suffer from it. That’s not surprising since many of us work at our desks all day, spend hours hunched over our smartphones, or collapse in front of the TV when the day is done.
In fact, statistics say that one-third of adults will experience back pain in the next three months. Did you know that:
• 31 million Americans suffer from low back pain at any given time
• In a three-month period, 25 percent of American adults will experience at least one day of back pain
• Aside from upper-respiratory infections, back pain is the most common reason for visiting the doctor
• Americans spend $50 billion each year on back pain
• Low back pain is the leading cause of workplace absence throughout much of the industrial world
• 149 million days of work are lost each year due to low back pain
• Half of all American workers admit to having back pain each year
The good news is that back pain isn’t inevitable. You can take steps to strengthen your back and avoid injury.
The most important step to take is exercise that builds strength and increases flexibility. Exercises that focus on your core — like yoga or Pilates — are smart options for back relief. Choose a workable plan that starts slowly and gets you moving most days.
Carrying extra weight is also bad for your back, so if you’re overweight one of the best things you can do is to commit to a sensible weight-loss plan.
Sitting at a desk all day can also do a real number on your back. To prevent pain, position yourself so your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are at a right angle. You should not have to tilt your head to read a computer screen. Be sure to get up regularly, or if you’re able, use a standing desk.
Proper body position also applies when you’re lifting something heavy. Here are some tips:
• Lift with your legs, not your back. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart, squat, and bend your knees to lift. Keep your back straight
• Engage your core muscles for the lift. Keeping your muscles engaged gives you a better foundation.
• Hold the load close to your body. This helps ensure you have a good grip and better balance for the load.
• Don’t twist your back. Face the same direction as your hips when you lift. Turn with your feet instead of your back.
• Get help for heavy loads. If something is too heavy, don’t attempt to lift it alone.
If back pain is your reality, you just want relief. Luckily, natural botanicals can ease inflammation and pain. Here are a few of the top options to ease back pain and help you enjoy life again.
Boswellia has been gaining attention for its unique anti-inflammatory effects. This tree resin, also known as frankincense, has been shown in scientific studies to inhibit 5-lipoxygenase, an enzyme involved in inflammation that many anti-inflammatory drugs can’t touch.
Boswellia also has analgesic properties, as evidenced in a 2015 crossover clinical trial published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology. Twelve healthy volunteers were randomized to receive boswellia or a placebo. Their pain threshold and tolerance was tested using a mechanical pain model at baseline and then for three consecutive hours. The researchers found that when participants received boswellia, they had a significantly higher pain threshold and increased tolerance compared to the placebo and the baseline.
Devil’s claw is aptly name for the spiny fruit of the plant. The latest research on devil’s claw has found that the key compounds in devil’s claw are harpagosides, which have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. A Canadian review of clinical trials found that the daily use of a devil’s claw extract, standardized for harpagosides, is effective for treating acute and chronic low back pain and may be able to replace or reduce the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
White willow bark contains salicin, the natural inspiration for acetylsalicylic acid or as we know it, aspirin. Willow bark has been used as a natural pain reliever for thousands of years. Besides salicin, willow bark includes a combination of polyphenols that contribute to its effects. And those effects make it a great choice for back pain. In fact, one German clinical study found willow bark extract to be as effective as Vioxx, an NSAID that was removed from the market due to safety concerns.
Comfrey should be in everyone’s herbal medicine cabinet. This herb has been used for centuries to treat injuries — even broken bones. Topical comfrey cream is a convenient way to relieve back pain. Just be sure to look for a comfrey cream that’s free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can be harmful.
One such topical cream has been the subject of several clinical studies. In a double-blind study out of the Czech Republic, 135 patients with chronic back pain were divided into two groups. The treatment group, who received a 10 percent extract cream, experienced a 63 percent reduction in pain during movement after just four to five days of treatment. The reference group, who received a 1 percent extract cream, experienced only a 20 percent reduction in pain during the same timeframe. At the end of the evaluation period (8 to 10 days), the treatment group exhibited an 88 percent reduction in pain.
A bad back can make you feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world. But using preventive measures and taking supplements to ease your pain will help keep your back strong and lighten your load.
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