Healing Back Pain

healing-back-pain_300When it comes to recurring back pain, it is crucial to understand the cause of your pain in order to get relief. You have more options than prescription pain relievers or surgery. There are effective natural pain-relieving products available. In addition, there are non-medicine ways to reduce pain and heal that I’d like to share with you.

Where Is It Coming From?

Back pain has a variety of causes. Whether it stems from an acute injury, degenerative disc disease, facet joint arthritis, infection, bone cancer, pregnancy, kidney stones or endometriosis, the first step is to find out what you’re dealing with. Moreover, if you experience increasing weakness or numbness in your legs, loss of bowel or bladder control, or unexpected weight loss, you require a clear diagnosis.

In many cases, you’ll probably need simple X-rays and an MRI. However, despite modern diagnostic advances, doctors can’t pinpoint an exact cause in about 85 percent of back problems. So after the serious causes are ruled out by your doctor, it’s probably going to be up to you to discover the main source and the contributing factors.

In my experience, patients most commonly don’t know what what’s leading to their pain.

My question to them becomes, “What are you doing to contribute to your ongoing or repeated back strain?” Strain from bending or lifting repetitively (or even just once) at work or in the yard is a typical contributor to back pain. Sitting for prolonged periods of time in poor posture chairs can be another. You can also develop pain from sleeping on your stomach or wearing high heels.

What You Can Do That Is Safe And Effective

Right after you feel the initiating back strain pain, first try topical ice for 20 minutes an hour each hour for the first eight waking hours. This is a really effective anti-inflammatory measure. For my own pain, I usually take one dose of 800-mg ibuprofen as soon as possible, too.

Get up and get going as soon as you can after your strain, but move slowly. Then, after the first 24-hour period, take a hot bath for 20 minutes each morning with Epsom salts (2 cups to your bath) to increase the elasticity of the muscles and 20 minutes of topical ice right before you go to sleep at the end of your day. Get a massage if you can. Use a lumbar support cushion if you feel strain while sitting, especially when driving. Lift and set down items using bent knees. Carry heavy objects close to your body.


Spinal manipulation is an option, although my experience is to let the body heal itself with more conservative movement. I must be in the 80 percent group of patients with back strain who recover spontaneously within a week with only conservative treatment.

Exercise and strengthening your back should be an important part of your preventive strategy. Swimming is a great way to do this. Most of us can’t get into a pool conveniently, but can do strengthening exercises such as those shown here.

Other good exercises include yoga and stretching, as determined in a study reported in the December 2011 Archives of Internal Medicine. [1] Also, don’t ignore your core muscles. Your back, side, pelvic and butt muscles work in coordination with your abs for core movement, so learn to do lunges, squats and planks [2] along with crunches for your core strengthening.

For a comprehensive guidebook on reducing chronic back pain, I recommend the paperback book by Art Brownstein, M.D., Healing Back Pain Naturally: The Mind-Body Program Proven to Work.

What if you see no direct anatomical relationship to the location of your persistent pain? Then ask yourself if you could be contributing to pain by your thoughts, feelings, dietary habits or relationships (all your interactions with others count here, including your business dealings).

Healing is directly related to the energy of life you put into healing, and ongoing pain is directly related to the pain in your mind or spirit. Why? Well, you know that your back muscles maintain a healthy, pain-free spine. Your mind and your back muscles are connected via your nervous system. Therefore, stress can directly hurt your back and perpetuate pain. This is the most difficult thing for some people to understand and accept.

My opinion is that such individuals are too proud to be fully accountable for their contribution (thoughts, feelings, actions) to their pain. Instead, they believe that it’s their body’s fault and that they are simply the victims of their genetic makeup or the circumstances causing their pain. They refuse to understand that they contribute to pain by their very lifestyle choices and emotional patterns.

This is where stress-management techniques would be very helpful, such as deep breathing and relaxation exercises, guided imagery or meditation. These methods down-regulate the stress-tension-pain cycle. They also wake up the spiritual healing that can become forgotten when people are only in their logical minds.

What You Can Take That Is Safe And Effective

Pain relief can be found from certain natural and herbal remedies you can get without a prescription from your health food store. These include:

  • SAMe: 750 mg twice daily (an amino acid)
  • Systemic proteolytic enzymes: between meals. These modulate the components of your immune system involved with inflammation.
  • Arnica, traumeel or belladonna: applied topically (low-dose homeopathics)
  • Wintergreen: applied topically
  • Devil’s claw: taken orally, helps improve circulation in joints
  • Jamaican dogwood: an anti-spasmodic. (Careful: Don’t exceed dosing recommendations on the bottle.)
  • Magnesium: take 500-1,000 mg (muscle relaxant) at night; take with calcium.
  • Bromelain or quercetin: enzymes to take between meals
  • Chamomile tea or ginger root tea

For connective tissue support and long term anti-inflammatory effects, try:

  • Vitamin C: 3,000 mg with bioflavonoids daily
  • Proline and lysine: protein building blocks
  • B vitamins: B12, B6 and B complex vitamins
  • Cod liver oil: 3-6 grams daily; helps alleviate musculoskeletal complaints

The Safest Prescriptions

If just for a day or two, take Advil at 800 mg every 6 hours (over-the-counter Advil is available in 200-mg pills). Take stronger prescription analgesic tramadol (Ultram®) 50 mg one to two pills every six hours for moderate to severe pain.

To feeling good for life,
Michael Cutler, M.D.
Easy Health Options

[1] Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Wellman RD, Cook AJ, Hawkes RJ, Delaney K, Deyo RA. A randomized trial comparing yoga, stretching and a self-care book for chronic low back pain. Arch Intern Med. 2011 Dec 12;171(22):2019-26.


Dr. Michael Cutler

By Dr. Michael Cutler

Dr. Michael Cutler is a graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine and is a board-certified family physician with more than 20 years of experience. He serves as a medical liaison to alternative and traditional practicing physicians. His practice focuses on an integrative solution to health problems. Dr. Cutler is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on experiencing optimum health through natural medicines and founder of the original Easy Health Options™ newsletter — an advisory on natural healing therapies and nutrients. His current practice is San Diego Integrative Medicine, near San Diego, California.