Back Pain

a slightly overweight man holds his back

Back pain hits nearly everyone sooner or later. It is the most commonly experienced pain in the country, considering nearly 80% of Americans suffer from back pain sometime in their lives, and 65 million Americans (mostly aged 30-60) experience back pain every year. Back pain is usually from a tight hamstring muscle pulling on the pelvis, back muscles, and tendons. It may be caused by a muscle strain, infection, fever, ulcers, stress, osteoporosis of the vertebrates or discs, ruptured disc, sciatica, lack of blood flow, spondylosis, nerve root pressure, nervous tension, constipation or common vertebrae misalignment. Most backaches are transient and go away when our nutrient reserves are built up, although backache is the number one cause of permanent disability for Americans under 45, and the largest cause for worker absenteeism in the developed world.

Most people choose to be treated with allopathic medicine for back pain. Treatment usually depends on the specific diagnosis. It may be lumbar strain, lumbar stenosis or a degenerative disease.  

Medications used include anti-inflammatory agents (ibuprofen, naproxen), analgesics (acetaminophen, aspirin, codeine, narcotic agents) and muscle relaxants (cyclobenzaprine, benzodiazepines). Once a degree of recovery has occurred, interventions such as losing weight, regular aerobic exercise and muscle stretching (yoga, Pilates), may be  important measures for lasting relief. 

A holistic approach to back pain has much to offer patients.  Natural approaches to health include proper rest and relaxation, exercise, meditation, stretching, a proper diet rich in organic fruits, vegetables, whole foods and water.  Visiting a chiropractor and/or an acupuncturist is recommended, especially before a rheumatologist or orthopedic surgeon must be consulted.


Disk degeneration

Disk degeneration injury and rupture tend to heal over time. One of the root causes may be a lack of blood flow to the tissues, ligaments and tendons of the area due to blocked arteries. Apply heat as maintenance therapy, stretch or do yoga to tolerance, drink lots of water, eat a healthier “green” diet, and take magnesium to relax muscles.

Muscle spasms or strains

Aches and pains usually signal strained muscles, tendons or ligaments. Massage, heat, magnesium and topical linaments may be helpful.


Commonly referred to as osteoarthritis, this disorder affects more people as we age. It can be caused by excessive weight, wear-and-tear, stress, injury or high acidity (high lactic acid as in gouty arthritis). Arthritis may be considered a slow degeneration of the cartilage. Heat and massage are helpful, along with stretching. Glucosamine, omega fatty acids, vitamin C and anti-inflammatory herbs are useful.

Lower back pain

Lower back pain may be caused by a myriad of problems, including sciatica, stenosis, injury, blocked arteries or reticulopathy. Losing weight, applying gentle massage, acupuncture, B-complex vitamins with extra vitamin B6, and magnesium are helpful.

Injuries and accidents

As you age a decrease in muscle tone will make you more prone to muscle injury. Losing weight and doing back exercises (yoga, stretching) will firm and tone your back muscles.

Suggestions to help avoid back injury, spasms, and/or pain 

  1. Try to achieve and maintain a normal body weight.
  2. Drink 6-8 glasses of pure water daily.
  3. Focus on accurate bone alignment and proper joint movement (see a chiropractor).
  4. Nourish your various tissues (cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and muscles) with nutrients that support your body’s ability to heal and prolong health and vitality. Mainly supplement with magnesium and B Complex vitamins.
  5. Exercise regularly, especially stretching exercises like yoga, Pilates or T’ai-chi.
  6. Try and reduce emotional stress as much as possible. Work on relaxation techniques.
  7. Be sure to get adequate rest.
  8. Do not overdo it! Don’t lift weights that are too heavy, and don’t compromise your back by poor posture or uncomfortable positions.
  9. Get a regular massage, either Swedish or deep-tissue, as tolerated.


Is the source of your back problem on your dinner plate? It may be. Blocked arteries, loss of blood flow to the aorta, and poor circulation preventing an adequate blood supply to tendons, ligaments and muscles are major sources of pain and inflammation. Eating a variety of low-fat, nutrient-rich foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, whole foods, legumes, and plenty of pure water may improve circulation to the back. Decrease the consumption of foods that induce “pain and inflammation,” including dairy products, meats, refined sugar, processed wheat, nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, radishes, potatoes), coffee, and chocolate.

an assortment of vegetables can help with back pain


    These are essential minerals to relax muscles, strengthen bones, and promote healing and blood supply. In the case of back aches or spasms, it is important to supplement with extra magnesium, unless diarrhea or loose stools become problematic. Dosage: 1:1 ratio of Calcium to Magnesium, approx. 500-1,000 daily.
    Glucosamine is very important for the formation on bones, teeth ligaments, cartilage and synovial joint fluid.  This is highly effective to help build cartilage and decrease the breakdown of existing cartilage. Chrondrotin gives added nutritional support for joints and ligaments. Dosage: 500mg 2-3 times a day for extended periods of time.
    More and more studies report that extra Vitamin D3 may be a champion for back pain and other muskoskeletal pain. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and bone health. Inadequate vitamin D intake can result in a softening of bone surfaces, or osteomalacia, that causes pain. The lower back seems to be particularly vulnerable to this effect. Dosage: 1,000-10,000 IU daily or as directed by a qualified practitioner.
    Vitamin C is deficient in most patients with back problems. It helps to fight infections, mobilizes and builds collagen, and helps manufacturer white connective tissue. Administration in fairly high doses may deter further exacerbation of pain and inflammation. Bioflavonoids are antioxidants that come from colorful citrus foods and increase the healing activity of Vitamin C.  Bioflavonoids relieve pain by inhibiting various enzymes involved in the inflammatory response. They are especially effective for the recovery of athletic injuries. Dosage: Vitamin C 1,000-5,000 mg daily. Bioflavonoids 250-1,000 mg daily.
    A sulfur-based nutrient, MSM helps bind water to the cartilage matrix, keeping the cartilage between the joints soft and spongy. Dosage: 100mg 2-6 times a day as needed for acute pain.
    Cox-2 inhibiting herbs may have an anti-inflammatory action like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), but milder, and may help to wean patients who are dependent on NSAID therapy to get through the day.  They efficiently block the COX-2 (pro-inflammatory enzymes) in the body. These herbs may take a little longer to work, but are less likely to cause gastric bleeding, ulcers or liver disease. Many of these herbs also supporting joint and back health, are antioxidant in nature, and promote circulation. Some of the most common and effective COX-2 herbs include Boswellia, Curcumin, Licorice, Devil’s Claw, Bromelain, Nettles, Ginger and Berberine. Dosage: See package label.
    Enzymes have a huge role to play in back pain management. Proteolytic enzymes such as chymotrypsin, trypsin, and raw pancreas concentrate are potent anti-inflammatory agents that increase healing time in sports injuries by 50-75%. They are especially helpful in strain-sprain injuries. Dosage: As directed on label or as recommended by an experienced practitioner.
    These essential fats like flaxseed, fish oil, and borage oil can lubricate joints (relieving pain), decrease inflammation, and give a person a better sense of well being. They work well in combination with glucosamine and calcium/magnesium. Dosage: 1,000-4,000 mg daily.
  9. B COMPLEX with additional VITAMIN B6
    Vitamin B complex in higher doses may rejuvenate nerves cells that commonly get inflamed and cause additional back spasms and pain. In particular, Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) is helpful in relieving neuralgia.  In some cases, additional Vitamin B12 (most effective when administered intramuscularly), can be very useful to help relieve pain and promote healing. Dosage: 100-150 mg daily.
    Pycnogenol is a natural product made from the bark of the French Pine bark. Pycnogenol is rich in proanthocyanidins, a special class of water-soluble antioxidant flavonoids, which are excellent free-radical scavengers. Pycnogenol also is excellent at relieving inflammation and improving circulation. It has been effectively used in relieving the pain associated with arthritis. Dosage: 50-150 mg daily.
  11. ARNICA
    A homeopathic-herbal product that is effective in decreasing pain, reducing inflammation and swelling. Many surgeons use arnica to help speed the recovery of surgery or injury. Dosage: Up to nine tablets can be taken (dissolved under the tongue) as needed. Higher doses may increase blood pressure after 2 weeks. Topically, arnica cream or gel can be applied freely to the affected area.
    Many supplemental herbal formulas have a contingent of antispasmodic herbs to further help relieve pain, inflammation and spasms. Most antispasmodic herbs also have a sedative effect. Common antispasmodic herbs include: Butterbur, Black cohosh, Valerian root, Cramp bark, Kava root,  Corydalis tuber and Chamomile flowers.
    This herb plays a role in inhibiting prostaglandin (inflammation) synthesis, increases blood flow, and reduces pain. Cayenne contains compounds that act as powerful antioxidants. Dosage: as directed on package.
    Additional protein concentrations are helpful in maintaining muscle mass that can reduce the pain associated with back aches. Dosage: 2-4 scoops of soy, whey, rice, or buckwheat protein daily are healthy choices.
    Applied topically or in a patch, lidocaine can target the painful complications of backaches.
    A mixture or single use of topical linaments are an effective adjunct therapy when used with drugs and or supplements that help to relief the pain of backaches. The most effective cream and gel linaments include: Capsaicin, Calendula, Witch hazel, Tiger Balm, MSM cream, Hypericum cream, Sage herb and Glucosamine cream. Dosage: As directed on label.


Avoiding Injury, Spasm and Pain. Advanced Nutrition Publications, Inc. rev. 1999.

Burke, ER. No More Aching Back. Total Health for Longevity, 22(5): 37-38.

Disease Prevention and Treatment. Third Edition. Life Media Extension, 2000. Hollywood, Fl.

Hayes, DL. (lecture) The Acute Care Nutrition Seminar, December, 2002, Pittsburgh, PA.

Is the Source of Back Pain on Your Plate? The Latest In Good Medicine, Autumn 2000. The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. P. 4.

Marion, JB. Anti Aging Manual. Information Pioneers. S. Woodstock, CT., 1996

Meletis, CD. Higher Doses of Vitamin D3 Reduces the Risk of Common Health Problems.

Pujari, A.  Back Pain: Perspectives from an Integrative Medical Doctor. Jrl of the American Herbalists Guild. 2005. 6(1): 15-20.

Sahelian, R. Natural COX-2 Inhibitors.

Winston, D.  The Use of Herbs for Treating Chronic Back Pain. Jrl of the American Herbalists Guild, 2005. 6(1): 20-24.

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