When back pain occurs suddenly (after lifting a heavy object, for example), it is called acute back pain or sprain. In most cases, acute back pain eventually improves by itself, but there may be weeks of discomfort, time lost from work, and impaired function at home.
When back pain persists over months or years, it is called chronic back pain. In the majority of cases, the cause of chronic back pain is unknown. Identifiable causes include osteoarthritis , fracture, or injury to the discs between the vertebrae.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Extract of the herb white willow appears to be helpful for acute and chronic back pain, presumably because of its similarity to aspirin. The little-known injection technique known as prolotherapy may be effective for back pain as well. Lesser evidence supports the use of chiropractic and acupuncture.
Willow bark has been used as a treatment for pain and fever in China since 500 BC. It contains the substance salicin, which is chemically related to aspirin. Another ingredient of white willow, tremulacin, may also be important.
Note: White willow should not be combined with standard anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen. For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full White Willow article.
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
The use of prolotherapy to treat back pain has had mixed results in clinical studies.
Invented in the 1950s by George Hackett, prolotherapy is based on the theory that chronic pain is often caused by laxness of the ligaments that are responsible for keeping a joint stable. When ligaments and associated tendons are loose, the body is said to compensate by using muscles to hold the joint stable. The net result, according to prolotherapy theory, is muscle spasms and pain.
What can one make of this contradictory evidence? When used alone prolotherapy is probably no more effective than a placebo injection for the treatment of chronic low back pain. However, there is some evidence that the technique may be beneficial when combined with other therapies.
For more information, see the full Prolotherapy article.
Herbs and Supplements to Use Only With Caution
Various herbs and supplements may interact adversely with drugs used to treat back pain. For more information on this potential risk, see the individual drug article in the Drug Interactions section of this database.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 09/2014 -
- Update Date: 03/19/2015 -