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May 24, 2024 8 min read

Back pain is a considerable problem for many. Consider thesestatistics:

  • 8%, or 16 million, adults experience persistent or chronic back pain.
  • It's the leading cause of work-loss days, accounting for 83 million days of work lost per year.
  • 72% of those with back pain report feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and hopelessness that have interfered with their life.

Back pain can cause physical, financial, and emotional turmoil. And while pain drugs are a standard method for relief, they can have drastic side effects such as addiction, drowsiness, and more.

The solution?

Taking a holistic approach to back pain. Holistic treatment means addressing the person as a whole and not just numbing the sensation of pain. The goal is to identify and treat the underlying cause of pain while providing comfort and support.

Holistic treatment is a safer alternative to opioids, often reducing reliance. A study atDuke Health found holistic pain relief to reduce 51% of participants' morphine dose within 30 days.

One of the most significant benefits of holistic pain relief is its safety. Compared to drugs, holistic treatment typically has few, if any, side effects. It can be a great alternative or be used in unison with prescription painkillers.

Below are 15 holistic treatments for back pain. Each method includes various studies that prove their effectiveness. After reading this article, you'll be ready to utilize safe and effective treatments to escape the cycle of pain.

A cold pack in a freezer

Hot & Cold Therapy

Hot and cold therapy is one of the most common home remedies for back pain. It involves alternating between a hot andcold pack to the injured area. Hot and cold temperatures have different effects on the body:

  • Heat therapy widens blood vessels, which reduces cramping and pain. The increase in blood flow lets healing components of the blood reach the injured area.
  • Cold therapy constricts blood vessels, reducing inflammation and pain. This counteracts the inflammation caused by heat therapy.

Medical News Today makes the case for hot and cold therapy for back pain. They cite a2021 study that found both can help alleviate pain. They also cite a2021 research review that found early heat therapy to prevent mild lower back pain from becoming chronic.

When applying hot & cold therapy to your back, follow these steps:

  1. Apply cold for 1 minute.
  2. Switch to 3 minutes of heat.
  3. Apply 1 minute of cold.
  4. Switch to heat for 3 minutes.
  5. Apply cold for 1 minute.
  6. Heat for 3 minutes
  7. Then, wrap up the session with a cold application for one minute.
A TENS unit on a wood surface with accessories

TENS Therapy

TENS therapy (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) is a method for blocking the sensation of pain. It involves using a small device that delivers electrical pulses through electrodes placed over the target area. These electrical pulses block pain signals from reaching the brain, stimulate endorphin production, and improve blood flow. This combination of effects helps fight pain and inflammation.

While TENS therapy has yielded mixed results, there have been a few studies reporting positive results:

  • A2016 meta-analysis on TENS therapy for chronic low back pain found it to significantly reduce pain. It also emphasized that treatment duration is critical, with shorter periods of less than five weeks showing greater effectiveness.
  • A2022 meta-analysis concluded that TENS therapy effectively reduces pain intensity during or immediately after treatments.
  • A2015 study suggested that TENS effectively reduces movement-related pain in older adults with chronic low back pain. It emphasizes the importance of using higher intensity levels and frequent treatment sessions for better results.
A red light therapy device on a man's back

Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy involves using a device that emits red and infrared light over the injured area. These devices emit red light in the mid-600 nanometer range and infrared light in the mid-800s. This light penetrates the skin to reach muscles, nerves, and bones. When exposed, cells receive a boost of energy, which helps them function more effectively and heal the injured area.

Numerous studies have found it effective:

  • A2022 study found that red light therapy significantly reduced pain intensity and sensitivity from chronic low back pain.
  • A2018 study on red light therapy found that it reduced pain in patients with chronic low back pain compared to a placebo group.

The benefits of red light therapy go beyond pain. This holistic back pain relief method can:

  • Promote wound healing and tissue repair
  • Improve blood flow
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Improve joint health
  • And more.
Acupuncture needles on a woman's back


Acupuncture is a pain relief method with Chinese origins. It involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body. It's thought to relieve pain by blocking pain signals, releasing endorphins, and modulating nervous system activity.

Studies have shown promising results for this treatment:

  • A2022 study found verum acupuncture to be more effective than sham treatment for chronic low back pain.
  • A2021 review found acupuncture provided more pain relief and improved back function in the short term compared to no treatment.
A man getting a back massage

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is a technique that uses hand movements to manipulate muscles and soft tissues. It targets tight muscles and trigger points, breaking them down to reduce tension and improve flexibility. Additionally, massage increases blood flow to the area, promoting healing and reducing inflammation. The relaxation and stress relief achieved through massage can also indirectly improve pain perception and overall well-being.

Studies have shown massage therapy to be effective in managing back pain:

  • A summary of research studies from theAmerican Massage Therapy Association concluded that massage can decrease lower back pain. Additionally, it can reduce the disability, anxiety, and depression associated.
  • A2017 study found that massage therapy significantly improved pain and function in patients with chronic low back pain.
A woman putting cream on her back

Capsaicin Cream

Capsaicin cream is a topical medication derived from chili peppers that relieves minor muscle and joint pain. It works by initially causing a burning sensation on the skin, which depletes a substance called substance P in the nerves. Substance P helps transmit pain signals to the brain, so depleting it leads to reduced pain perception. Additionally, capsaicin can increase blood flow to the affected area, promoting healing and reducing inflammation.

Studies have shown promising results for capsaicin cream in managing back pain:

  • A2010 study found that capsaicin cream significantly reduced chronic low back pain scores compared to a placebo group.
  • A1997 study compared the effectiveness of capsaicin cream to an NSAID gel for chronic low back and neck pain. It found that capsaicin cream significantly reduced pain intensity compared to the control group after five weeks of treatment.
Vitamin D capsules spilling from a bottle

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a crucial nutrient for bone health, immune function, and, potentially, back pain management. It helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for strong bones.  It may also contribute to preventing back pain related to bone health issues.

While research is ongoing, some studies suggest a link between low vitamin D levels and increased back pain severity:

  • A2017 study found vitamin D supplements to reduce chronic back pain and improve functional ability in deficient patients.
  • A2017 systematic review and meta-analysis found an association between vitamin D deficiency and low back pain, particularly in younger individuals and women.
A woman stretching her back


Stretching is a simple and effective home remedy for a thrown out back. Increasing flexibility and reducing muscle tension can significantly improve pain and mobility. Here are some studies that highlight the benefits of stretching for back pain:

  • A study by the National Institutes of Health showed that yoga and stretching are equally good for reducing back pain. These methods were more effective than a self-care book, and the benefits lasted several months after the intervention.
  • A2017 study showed that stretching exercises significantly reduced pain and improved functional mobility. The study focused on individuals with work-related low back pain. It compared them to back care education or lumbar stabilization exercises.
Cut ginger in a wood bowl

Anti-Inflammatory Herbs

Several anti-inflammatory herbs show promise in managing back pain. These herbs can reduce inflammation to improve comfort and mobility. The following herbs offer holistic healing for back pain:

  • Turmeric: This bright yellow spice contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory compound.Studies suggest that curcumin can be as effective as over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen.
  • Boswellia: Resin from the Boswellia serrata tree has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.Studies show that it can effectively reduce back pain and improve function in patients with osteoarthritis.
  • Ginger: This versatile herb contains gingerols, which have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects.Studies suggest that ginger can help manage back pain and may even be as effective as some medications.
A hand grabbing a magnesium pill from a bottle


Magnesium is a vital mineral involved in various bodily functions, including muscle relaxation and nerve function. While some studies suggest potential benefits for back pain, the research remains mixed.

Positive Evidence:

  • A2013 study found that a combination of intravenous and oral magnesium supplementation can help reduce pain. The combination can also improve the spine's range of motion in people with chronic lower back pain.

Neutral Evidence:

Vitamin B12 capsules on a granite surface

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is essential for nerve function, red blood cell production, and DNA synthesis. Research on its role in back pain is limited, but some studies suggest a potential connection. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to nerve damage, contributing to back pain. Low B12 levels also associate with increased inflammation, another back pain factor.


  • A2000 study found individuals with chronic low back pain were more likely to have vitamin B12 deficiency.
A woman sitting at a desk with back pain

Avoid Prolonged Sitting

Sitting for extended periods, especially with poor posture, contributes to back pain. It strains the back muscles and spinal discs, leading to discomfort and potentially more serious issues.

Studies have consistently shown a strong link between prolonged sitting and back pain:

  • A2021 study found a significant association between increased sitting time and the prevalence of low back pain.
  • Ameta-analysis found workers who sat for 8 hours had a 1.31 times higher risk of lower back pain.
A woman meditating


Meditation is a mind-body practice focusing attention and awareness on the present moment. While not a cure, research suggests that meditation can be a valuable tool for managing back pain. It can help by reducing stress, improving pain tolerance, and enhancing coping skills.

Studies have shown promising results for meditation in managing back pain:

  • Areview analyzed multiple studies and concluded that mindfulness-based meditation can significantly reduce chronic low back pain. It can also improve quality of life and decrease pain-related disability.
  • A study from USC Keck School of Medicine found that meditation can help with chronic low back pain. The study showed that meditation is both safe and effective for managing this type of pain.
A woman lying in bed

Proper Sleep Posture

Proper sleep posture involves maintaining the natural curvature of your spine while sleeping. You can achieve this by sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees or on your back with a pillow under your knees.

These positions help distribute weight evenly and reduce pressure on the spine to decrease muscle tension and improve alignment. This can significantly alleviate back pain and contribute to better sleep quality.

A physical therapist stretching a woman's back

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a safe and effective treatment for back pain, often considered the first line of defense. It involves a personalized approach using various techniques to address the underlying causes of pain and improve overall function.

Physical therapists work with patients to perform various exercises to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility. They also incorporate massage and joint mobilization techniques while training patients on proper posture, body mechanics, and safe movements.

Two studies have found promising results for physical therapy and back pain:

  • University of Washington research demonstrates that early physical therapy for low back pain significantly reduces opioid prescriptions, imaging services, and emergency department visits. It also leads to better long-term outcomes for patients.
  • AUniversity of Utah study found strong evidence that physical therapy, including exercise and manual therapy, significantly reduces pain. It also improves function and increases flexibility in individuals with back pain.

Which Holistic Approach will You Take?

As you've probably already gathered, a holistic approach to back pain is not only safe but also effective. Many methods help alleviate pain, improve functionality, and enhance the healing process. To reduce your recovery time, it's best to incorporate multiple treatment types, such as stretching and proper sleep posture.

It's always best to consult your doctor before trying any of these. They can pinpoint the cause of your back pain and recommend a tailored treatment plan.

Which holistic approach have you tried? Leave a comment below!

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