5 Harvard tips to reduce your back pain

One out of every three Americans suffers chronic back pain. If you’re one of them, you can blame your vulnerability to back pain on our distant ancestors. While the human species was evolving, they were quick, a little too quick, to give up their four-legged habits and begin traversing the terrain on two feet.

For many of us, the shape of the spine has never quite caught up to this bipedal mode of transportation and, according to scientists at Simon Fraser University, Canada, the anatomy of the spine, and its discs, is still shaped as though we were down on all fours. When you stand, that retro-geometry can cause the spinal discs to press down on cartilage in a way that forces sections to protrude and herniate.

With that tendency to malfunction, it doesn’t surprise me that so many people have backs that hurt. But you don’t have to take a sore back lying down — although, sometimes lying down will make it feel better.

Instead, research at Harvard shows there are some things you can do on your own to lower your risk of back pain. They include:

  • Giving up smoking. Inflammation from tobacco smoke can exacerbate back problems.
  • Losing weight. Carrying extra body fat around, especially when it hangs out over your belt, puts extra stress on those spinal discs that are relics from prehistoric times.
  • Cutting back on alcoholic beverages. Over-indulgence in alcohol creates extra inflammation that does bad things to your back.
  • Trying Pilates exercises. A study at the Sydney Medical School in Australia shows these may help ease back issues.
  • Using herbs like devil’s claw and chamomile. Dr. Michael Cutler also recommends trying homeopathic arnica, taking extra vitamin C (3,000 mg daily with bioflavonids), and enzymes like bromelain.

You probably noticed that a couple of tips above referenced avoiding triggers that cause inflammation. Inflammation is often the root cause of chronic pain and disease and though you might not think it’s a big deal, you should think again. I am a living example of the improvement that occurs when this pain-maker is tamed.

When I went gluten-free and switched to the paleo diet, inflammation in my body was greatly reduced. These changes helped with my back pain immensely. I still get occasional back soreness but my back difficulties have been greatly reduced. Of course, I also lost about 20 pounds when I changed my diet. That probably helped, too.

You may find it difficult to cut gluten from your diet, but if you can follow the Harvard tips above to reduce inflammation, lose a few pounds and try Pilates, you could likely have the same success I have at reducing the pain I was living with.

For more on how to reduce inflammation, Dr. Wiley offers some helpful advice here. Here’s to living pain free!


Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.