Back pain is one of the most common complaints I know of working in natural medicine. In fact, I’ve heard that an estimated 31 million Americans alone suffer from chronic back pain, myself included. Conventional treatment of back pain typically involves the use of strong pain medications, anti-inflammatories, and in some cases, surgery. However, these treatments often fail in relieving the root cause of the problem which leaves us searching for other remedies.
The main reason why conventional medicine falls short is because it suppresses the problem rather than solving it. Covering up the pain, while certainly relieving the most uncomfortable symptoms, doesn’t necessarily heal it. This is why incorporating herbs for back pain coupled with other healing therapies, is a much more effective approach to recovery.
Herbs act on a wide scale when it comes to pain which can make them tricky to incorporate properly. Some are obvious in their virtues while others are rather vague in their abilities. Hopefully through this article, you will be able to match your symptoms with certain herbs for better pain management and healing.
Why Pain is Important
Before delving into the remedies, you must first understand why pain is essential for healing properly. Pain is always the first thing people want resolved because hey, it’s uncomfortable! But when this person goes to the doctor and describes their discomfort, they will more than likely be prescribed a powerful pain killer and sent on their way. The trouble is, that pain killer isn’t fixing anything and carries with it some significant risks like liver and kidney damage, addiction, and stomach ulcers to name a few.
Pain is one of the body’s most important means of communication. It tells us what we can and cannot safely do while injured and forces us to rest and heal. When we take powerful pain killers, that message is silenced which allows us to forge on with our day. While that may be convenient, it is actually causing more harm than good. The absence of pain keeps us from hearing our body’s plea that we may be re-injuring ourselves and possibly worsening the original injury. You become unaware of the potential trauma that is occurring while you overexert and re-injure the body. This is often why people remain on strong pain killers for long periods of time.
I am in no way saying that pain meds do not have their place in healing, because they do in some cases. However, they should not be used as a means to trudge on like nothing happened. The proper rest MUST be taken into account and not thrown on the wayside when using pain meds, herbs, therapy, or when recovering from surgery. Taking it easy, especially when healing back pain should be a priority.
Herbs and Pain
Herbs are not as potent as pharmaceutical pain killers. However, when used properly they will resolve the conditions that are causing the pain. So while they may not offer immediate relief, they can yield far better long term recovery.
Unlike pain killers, herbs need a bit more know how in order for them to work their best. Pain is complicated and multifaceted in that it has different degrees and qualities. It can be dull and achy, sharp and stabbing, hot and searing, etc.
You must also note that back pain can manifest itself from several different things such as nerve pain, muscle pain, and inflammatory pain. You can also have low synovial fluid, compressed disks, and so on. Each type of pain will be different depending on what is causing it.
Herbs for Back Pain
Listed below are some of the best herbs for back pain that I know of based on common root causes. While herbs may not offer the level of immediate relief conventional pain meds do, they will however heal the underlying issues, strengthen the spine and surrounding musculature, and ease symptoms. In my opinion, using herbs is a must for all structural and soft tissue injuries for this reason. Of course, if you do need pain medication to better ease the discomfort and save your sanity, use them with respect and with PLENTY of REST. You must also make sure that any herbs you use do not interact with those or any other medications you may be taking.
The Best Herbal Remedies for Muscular Back Pain
Muscle pain causes the surrounding area to seize up in order to prevent further injury. When we have an injury of the back or the joints this stiffness creates a “natural splint” that can feel downright agonizing. It’s as if the muscles are waiting for us to make a wrong move, then they spasm like crazy before the injury can be further aggravated. It’s times like these where very slow and careful movement are what make us learn what the pain is saying.
Thankfully, there are quite a few herbs that are considered anti-spasmodic which will help heal your muscular back pain.
1. Cramp Bark
This is a favorite of mine to use for intense uterine cramps/spasms. It is also well suited for muscles spasms in the back. This is because it possesses a unique ability to relax the body, reduce tension, and reduce reactivity (i.e. the body’s anticipation that you’re going to move wrongly and cause more injury).
Take 30 drops of cramp bark tincture every hour for acute situations until the pain has subsided.
2. Black Cohosh
Black cohosh is a wonderful herb for muscle pain characterized by stiffness with a tender, dull and achy sensation. Taken in small doses it is effective against muscles reactivity especially when paired with arnica tincture. Try to find a tincture that is made with the fresh plant rather than dried as it will be more effective.
Take 5-15 drops of Black Cohosh tincture every hour for acute situations until the pain has subsided.
Lobelia is a very powerful anti-spasmodic well suited for those with severe muscle spasms where the muscle has seized up and won’t let go.
Take 1-3 drops of Lobelia tincture every hour for acute situations until the pain has subsided. The very low dose is very important as larger doses (more than 10 drops at a time) may cause you to throw up.
4. Kava Kava
Kava kava is one of my favorite herbs and is a very effective remedy for tension in both the mind and body. This type of tension manifests itself physically due to emotional or mental anxiety. If your back pain is caused by stress, then kava kava may be just what you need. Learn how to make an amazing kava kava infused massage oil.
Take 1-3 dropperfuls of Kava Kava tincture 3 times a day for optimal relief. Keep in mind not to operate machinery while using kava kava.
The Best Herbal Remedies for Nerve Pain in the Back
Nerve pain is characterized by numbness, tingling, and shooting or searing pain along the length of a limb. Sciatica is in this category of back pain.
Jamaican dogwood is a great herb that’s effective for both muscular and nerve pain both topically and internally. It is especially indicated for tight muscles where intense sensitive nerve pain is present due to mental tension that causes the muscles to lock up and not let go.
Take 5-30 drops (begin low) of Jamaican Dogwood tincture every hour until pain has subsided. Apply topically as desired.
St. John’s Wort
This is one of my favorite herbs for injured nerves as it seems to effectively restore nerve function regardless of whether the injury impaired their function (such as tingling and numbness) or induced severe reactivity (shooting and searing pain reminiscent of sciatica). St. John’s Wort also happens to lessen the pain and inflammation of nerve injuries as well as restore damaged nerves and relaxes the muscles in the surrounding area.
Take 5-15 drops of St. John’s Wort tincture 3-4 times a day along with a topical application of oil twice daily.
NOTE: St. John’s Wort interacts with many medications (by clearing them rapidly from the body) so make sure you do research before taking it especially if taking oral contraceptives.
The Best Herbal Remedies for Inflammatory Back Pain
Inflammation can also be a source of back pain due to increased healing activity in the affected area. This can be characterized by heat, swelling, and a throbbing or pulsing sensation. When inflammation become chronic, it is a sign from the body telling us that the healing process cannot be completed due to re-injury, lack of essential nutrients, or lack of lubrication. When anti-inflammatory medications or herbs are used cover up the discomfort, we suppress the natural healing response of the body. This is why it’s important to rest up in order to prevent aggravating the injury.
Some of the best herbs for relieving inflammation are:
• Aspen (aka cottonwood – learn to make the balm of gilead)
• Boswellia (I really like the cream)
• Cayenne – with regular topical use, cayenne can keep pain and inflammation to a minimum
• Ginger root
• Licorice root – suprizingly effective at inhibiting the enzyme production that’s involved in the inflammatory process
• White willow bark
• Wintergreen (I love the essential oil when added to salves and massage oils)
All of these herbs are really wonderful when used topically in salve or body oil formulas but the tinctures work well too. The key is to use them often while taking the appropriate amount of rest.
These are my favorite pain relieving salves:
This Youtube video below talks about some wonderful herbs for pain! Be sure to watch it 🙂
The Best Herbs for Joint and Tissue Lubrication
Another form of back pain is when there is a lack of lubrication in the spine. This can be caused by a deficiency in omega 3s as it gives tissues pliancy and resilience or it can be caused by low levels of synovial fluid which can cause friction. Some herbs even relieve atrophy caused by dry ligaments and tendons.
Often only thought of as an herb for dry coughs, mullein is also a remarkable herb for the musculoskeletal system as well. It is believed to have a moistening and lubricating effect on the synovial fluids and is hydrating to the spine and joints making it well suited for back pain, especially discomfort associated with misalignment resulting from a herniated disk or sciatica. It has the ability to make the spine more pliable and comfortable and restores spinal strength and integrity.
Take 5-15 drops of tincture 3-5 times daily.
Without a doubt, solomon’s seal is one of the most valuable herbs for restoring proper lubrication in the joints and pliancy to ligaments and tendons. It is especially indicated for tendonitis and other repetitive motion induced injuries. It acts as an anti-inflammatory on connective tissues and restores moisture to ligaments and tendons making them flexible again.
Take 5-10 drops of tincture 3-5 times a day. You can also apply an infused oil topically 2-3 times a day on the affected area. It works especially well for areas where the bones grate together and has been an amazing remedy for neck issues as well.
Herbs for Fluid Stagnation in the Spine and Joints
Impaired flow of blood, lymphatic fluid, and cerebrospinal fluid can cause back pain as well because it can be cut off. This may cause soft tissue atrophy and a build up of metabolic waste.
Arnica has the ability to increase circulation within and around joints.
This herb also seems to have a unique lubricating action on the spine especially for those who have suffered from whiplash.
Calendula is an effective lymphatic herb (among many other things) that helps relieve interstitial fluid stagnation in the body.
Take 5-30 drops of tincture 2-3 times daily, especially during times of rest to help clean up metabolic waste in and around the joints.
Yarrow is an invaluable ally when dealing with circulatory stagnation due to injury. Applying the tincture topically will help break up and disperse stagnant blood.
Herbs for Back Pain Caused by Broken Bones and Soft Tissue Damage
There are many different herbs that can be used to address physical trauma and assist in healing.
Arnica– Helps ease bruising, pain, swelling, and inflammation associated with torn connective tissues and muscles caused by strain. Take 5 drops of tincture before bed to help alleviate soreness.
Calendula– Helps resolve the inflammation and swelling associated with injuries and facilitates lymphatic drainage.
Comfrey– Has a remarkable ability to facilitate the rapid healing of damaged tissues including broken skin, broken bones, torn muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Apply the infused oil topically 3 times a day.
Goldenseal– To help strengthen weakened spinal disks take 1-3 drops of tincture.
Horsetail– One of the best remedies for healing broken bones, torn tissues, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. Take 5-15 drops of tincture twice daily. You can also drink the tea with good results.
Solomon’s Seal– Helps adjust the tension level in tendons by relaxing them if they are too tight and tightening them if they are too loose. It combines well with horsetail when healing torn tissues and broken bones.
St. John’s Wort– improves recovery by acting on nerves, muscles, and pain. Works well combines with arnica, calendula, and yarrow for their circulatory enhancing effects.
Yarrow– Works exceptionally well for bruising and the corresponding inflammation by dispersing stagnant fluids.
What have been your favorite herbs for back pain?
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