Alternative Treatments for Low Back Pain

By Dr Cynthia Horner

The facts speak for themselves: 8 in 10 adults will have an attack  of low back pain sometime in their life. Although chiropractic treatment can often help, the are also other alternative treatments for low back pain. Low back pain has many different faces, but one thing all low back pain has in common;  your brain and nervous system are behind it. If you think about it muscles and joints are passive and do nothing on their own.

They are like marionette puppets only capable of movement by the puppeteer, and the puppeteer of your body is your brain. Whether you fast stretch or slow stretch a muscle,  heat up or cool down your nerve receptors it will have a specific effect on your brain and how your brain fires back down to your body. This determines whether you heal and recover quickly or stay in pain, stiffness and discomfort for an unnecessary long period of time.

If you don’t want to resort to drugs and you’re unfamiliar with or afraid to try chiropractic, there are some alternative treatments you can do on your own to promote healing and a quick recovery.

Stretching  for Low Back Pain

Look at yourself in a full-length mirror. Are you pulled to one side? This is called antalgic posture. Your brain is pulling you away from the source of pain. If you are in an antalgic position taking muscle relaxers typically only makes your problem worse. A few different things can cause antalgia but very often it is caused by a bulged or damaged disc. Rest until the antalgic position lessens. It may be beneficial to lie on your back with your heels and calves in the seat of the chair. This position keeps your spine from working too hard to support your trunk and limbs, as well as relaxes your low back muscles.

If you are not antalgic take notice as you look in the mirror; is one of your shoulders lower than the other? If the answer is yes check to see if it is harder to lift your leg on that same side (lifting your leg as in marching). If so that is the side of your body that is not getting adequate signals from your brain to relax your muscles in the front of your upper body and the back of your lower body. This creates tight but weak buttocks and low back muscles. Also very small muscles that go from vertebrae to vertebrae become tight on one side and laxed on the other side creating more imbalances.

Stretching the psoas muscle

This is an excellent stretch for hip flexors to result in relaxing low back muscles.

It is ideal to fast stretch the little spinal muscles that are abnormally tight (that’s one thing a chiropractic adjustment does), and slow stretch the big muscles. Stretching the big muscles increases their tone and decreases the tone of the muscles opposite to them. You will feel relaxation pain relief in your low back as you increase the tone of your hip flexors in the front of your body.


Ice or Heat for Low Back Pain?

Because inflammation so often accompanies low back pain using ice will always be beneficial. Place the ice pack in the center of your back on your spine even if the pain radiates to your buttocks or leg. More than likely that is where the inflammation causing nerve compression is located. If you want to try something different use moist heat on your abdomen above the area of pain and ice on your spine below it. An example would be if the pain is in the curve of your low back you would ice on your tailbone between your pockets and put moist heat about 4 to 6 inches above the pain spot on your abdomen.

Heat on your abdomen increases the rate of firing of nerves from your gut. This effects the frequency of integration of multiple groups of nerve cells in your brainstem,  some of which are involved in modulating pain.  The ice on your low back simply slows and decreases the activation of pain signals from that region.

Herbal Remedies for Low Back Pain

Natural remediesare not vitamins they are forms of herbs or plants prepared in various different ways to relieve pain, decrease inflammation or promote healing. One difference that separates remedies from medication is that all medication creates a controlled response in your body altering metabolic processes and always resulting in harmful side effects. Remedies create an elected response in the body with no harmful side effects. You don’t want to poison your body why you’re asking it to step up, work harder and heal.

I have not found any herbal remedies that work in eliminating pain as effectively as over-the-counter or prescription medications. Listed below are some remedies that will slightly reduce pain to a tolerable level with little to no harmful effects on your body. On the other hand there are two very effective natural products to combat congestion, heat and swelling caused by inflammation.

For Pain

Arnica comes in the form of a cream to rub on topically or homeopathic pellets you place under your tongue. Arnica helps with pain in muscles or joints.

Resinal K  is a Chinese herb that works fairly well in reducing pain. The problem is it taste terrible and although it can be used topically it leaves a red brown stain on your body clothing. It is sold at health food stores and by acupuncturist.

For inflammation

Proteolytic enzymes are enzymes that work like little Pac-Man eating up aberrant proteins. By eliminating these aberrant proteins the swelling and congestion caused by inflammation is reduced. Often pain is from the pressure on nerves and tissue from the fluid and protein waste products of inflammation. Inflammation is one of the ways your body heals, almost like an internal scab, completely eliminating inflammation is not always in your best interest but reducing the waste products that result from the inflammation can help reduce pressure and pain.

Rhus Tox is a homeopathic remedy that helps your body with inflammation. Is found in health food stores and is taken in the form of a spray or pellets under your tongue.


What my patients have taught me: “As difficult as it is when you are in pain, you must tune in to what your body is telling you and believe in it.”