10 Ways to Treat Lower Back Pain

If you’re suffering from back pain, you’re not the only one.  According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, nearly 80% of adults suffer from low back pain at one point in their lifetimes and is the most common job-related disability which leads to missing work days.  Back pain can be caused by numerous things, from sports-related to age-related.

Most back pain lasts only for a short term (a few days to a few weeks), called acute and this kind of pain can be easily treated at home.  There’s subacute low back pain where the pain can last between 4 to 12 weeks. If your back pain lasts for more than 12 weeks, even after the treatment of acute low back pain, then you may have chronic back pain in which case you may need to seek medical and/or surgical treatment.

Below is a list of 10 different ways you can treat your lower back pain spanning from self-care to professional treatment:

1 - Getting Restorative Sleep

Many people are aware that sufficient hours of sleep is vital for your physical and mental health.  Despite this, not many people get a full night of sleep due to a variety of issues such as back pain.  Not only that but the quality of your sleep is just as important. Restorative sleep may seem impossible if you have back and/or neck pain.  But there’s a number of ways to help you achieve restorative sleep despite back pain:

  • Adjusting Your Sleep Position

The best sleeping position to reduce lower back pain is to sleep on your back and put a pillow under your knees.  Have a nice supportive pillow for your head as well. For those who side sleeps, place the pillow between your legs with again, another supportive pillow on your head.

The point of this is to have your spine in a neutral position in relation to your hips and pelvis.  This promotes spinal alignment and relieves the pressure points that are commonly associated with back pains.

The worst position for restorative sleep and spine is sleeping on your stomach.

  • Get a New/ Better Mattress

Your back pain may worsen if the mattress you’re sleeping on is old and saggy, too hard or too soft.  Sleeping on a hard mattress can obstruct the spinal cord from reaching its proper pressure. Sleeping on too soft of a mattress will sink your body down and can throw your joints out of alignment.  

The type of mattress that is rated best for quality sleep and pain relief is either memory foam or latex.  Foam mattresses conform closest to your body shape where the wider areas of your body, such as the hips and shoulders, will sink and the lighter parts such as your waist and neck will stay atop.  This will leave you with a straight, natural alignment.

2 - Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another method to manage pain.  It’s a form of psychological therapy where you meet with a therapist to focus on your cognitive (your thoughts) and behavioral (your actions).  

Essentially, your therapist will help you learn how to recognize the negative emotions and thoughts that occur when you experience back pain and how to stop having those negative thoughts.  They will teach you how to change them into positive, helpful thoughts through practice which will lead to healthy actions. Changing your negative thoughts to positive can help you manage the pain.

CBT helps make good lifestyle adjustments and foster life skills by giving you coping mechanisms that you can use in everything that you do and use the same tactics to deal with pain can help with other issues like stress, anxiety, and even depression.

For chronic pain, CBT is often paired with other pain management methods such as medications, exercise, massage, yoga, or imagery.

3 - Exercising/ Lose Weight

If you weigh heavier than what you should be weighing, then the reason why your back may be hurting is that in order for you to complete everyday tasks, your muscles have to work harder.  The weight also put the spine out of alignment which can lead to joint strain. By losing weight, you will be reducing strain on your spine and back muscles. It’s well-known that having a healthy diet and regular exercise is key to losing weight.  Exercise also helps prevent and manage back pain.

Exercising can lead to many benefits for your spine which include:

  • Build up the muscles that support your spine

  • Ease stiffness which will improve your mobility

  • Removes pressure from spinal discs and facet joints

  • Improves circulation

  • Release endorphins which will relieve your pain naturally

  • Reducing the number of episodes of back or neck pain as well as the severity

Here are some exercises to consider:

  • Perform Stretches

For pain that lasts longer than 3 months may require regular stretching for weeks and even months to reduce the pain successfully.  Stretches is an important part of all back exercises. It reduces the risk of you having a disability caused by back pain, improves your overall mobility, and reduce the muscle tension that’s supporting your spine so that it won’t worsen the pain.  

Below are a few exercise examples for low back pain you can try out:

  • Knee to Chest Stretch:  First lie on your back with your legs extended.  Have the back of your heels touch the floor and your toes pointed upwards.  Grab onto your right knee and gently pull it up towards your chest until you can feel that slight stretch in your lower back.  Remember to keep your left leg relaxed. Hold that stretch for 20 seconds and then slowly let go of the leg back to the starting position.  Repeat this with the left leg.

  • Lying Knee Twist Stretch: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet touching flat on the floor.  Have your arms extended out to the side, making a T position. While lying down, lift your knees up a little and gently rock them side-to-side to warm up the muscles.  After the warm-up, drop your knees to one side.  Hold it for 20-30 seconds before switching to the other side.  Be sure to keep your shoulders pressed against the floor as you move and tighten your core to support your upper spine and shoulders.

  • Piriformis Muscle Stretch: Start by lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.  Pull your right knee up to your chest with your left hand and pull it towards the left shoulder.  Hold this stretch and repeat it for each side. Another way to do this stretch is to rest your ankle of the right leg over your left knee, then pull your left thigh toward your chest.  Hold and repeat for each side.

This stretch could also be done seated.  Sitting with your back straight, cross your right leg over your left leg.  Your left foot should be placed towards your rear while your right foot is placed next to your left thigh.  Place your left hand over your right leg and twist your body towards the left. Repeat this for the other side.

You can start by holding the stretch for 5 seconds and then gradually increase it to 30 seconds.

  • Exercise Core/ Abdominal

  • Bird Dog: Start with your hands and knees on the floor and tighten your stomach muscles.  Lift and extend your one of your legs behind you. Be sure to keep the hips level.  Hold this position for 5 seconds before switching to the other leg and repeat. Try to lengthen the time of the hold for each lift.  Try to lift and extend the arm opposite to the leg. Don’t lift the leg up too high where the lower back muscles will sag. Raise it only to where the low back position can be maintained.

  • Bridge: Lie on your back with knees bent and have just the heels touching the floor.  When pushing your heels into the floor, squeeze your buttocks and lift your hips off the ground.  Lift up until your shoulders, hips, and knees are in a straight line. Be sure to keep the hips level as well.  Hold this position for 5 seconds, afterward lower your hips slowly back to the floor and rest for 10 seconds. Be sure not to arch your lower back as you move your hips upward and don’t overarch by tightening your abdominal muscles before and during the lift.  

  • Pelvic Tilts: Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground.  Keep your knees hip-width apart. Tighten your stomach muscles and gently flatten your lower back onto the ground.  Tilt your pelvis towards your heels until you feel that small arch in your lower back and your muscles contracting. After that, return back to your starting position.  Repeat this several times with tilting your pelvis back and forth in a slow rocking motion.

  • Do Yoga & Pilates


  • Sphinx Pose: This pose is great for toning the spine, stimulating the sacral-lumbar arch as well as promoting the natural curvature of the lower back.  For this pose, start with laying on your stomach and feet hip-width apart. Then bring your elbows under your shoulders and lift your upper body up with your torso still touching the floor.  

For a deeper bend, place a block under your elbows.  Hold this pose for 1-3 minutes. Afterward, come out of that pose by first lowering your upper body onto the floor.  Then stay and relax as much as you need to before transitioning to a child pose.

  • Supine Twist: This pose relieves tension on your entire back as well as neck.  Start by laying on your back, knees bent and both feet touching the floor.  Spread your arms out to a T-shape and bring your knees towards your chest. Then slowly lower your knees to one side while keeping your neck still and both shoulders on the floor.  Stay in that pose for 1-4 minutes and repeat for the other side.

  • Downward Facing Dog: Not only is this pose help with lower back issues, but it also stretches the hamstrings, lengthens and decompresses the spine.  Begin on your hands and knees. Align your hands and feet with the width of your hips. Tuck your toes and lift your knees off the ground.  As your pelvis reach towards the ceiling, gently begin straightening your legs, bringing your body into an upside down “V” shape. Be sure to distribute your weight evenly on your hands.  Hold this pose for 5-8 breaths.

4 - Soothe Pain with Cold/ Heat Therapy

  • Use Cold Therapy in First 24 to 72 hours

Cold therapy should be applied to your lower back in the first 24 to 72 hours as a general rule.  Cold compresses minimize inflammation and swelling by constricting the blood vessels and thus reduce your pain.  

Regardless of what you use for cold therapy, be sure to place a cloth or towel between your skin and ice pack to avoid ice burn.  Apply cold therapy for no more than 20 minutes at a time and could be applied 8 to 10 times every 24 hours.

  • Use Heat Therapy Afterwards For Healing

When the first 24 to 72 hours are over and the swelling and inflammation have subsided, use heat therapy to encourage healing by stimulating the blood back to the area.  The heat also helps ease your strained muscles and reduce tension.

Don’t have the heating pad too hot and don’t use apply it to your skin for more than an hour at a time as it can hurt your skin.

5 - Massage Therapy


Massages can help increase your blood flow which is known for muscle recovery and reduce soreness.  Too much tension in your body can cause pain and muscle restriction and it’s been clinically proven that massage therapy help reduces muscle tension.

Massage tactics such as acupressure and trigger point therapy create endorphins.  These are “feel-good” chemicals in your brain that are known to reduce pain as well as give you a feeling of euphoria.

Heat therapy in addition to massage therapy is also recommended for lower back pain.  They are ideal add-ons for massage services when it comes to lower back pain.

6 - Try Acupuncture

10 Ways to Treat Lower Back Pain - Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a medical practice that began thousands of years ago in China which involves inserting thin needles in certain areas or points on the body.  These points are connected by pathways or meridians that creates a flow of energy called Qi. The needles will stimulate the points to correct the qi’s imbalance and thus improve the flow of energy.  This will then relieve pain and improve health.

Acupuncture is said to release opioid-like chemicals in your body, release neurotransmitters to turn off your pain receptors as well as help speed up the release of endorphins to help your body manage pain.

If you want to try acupuncture but don’t know where to look for a qualified professional, you can start by searching for an acupuncturist through Google.  Many acupuncturists use Google Ads for marketing so it won’t be difficult to find one near you.

Acupuncture is a safe procedure and therapy to treat lower back pain when it is done by a qualified acupuncturist so be sure to do your research on the person.  Ask them about their training, experience, as well as their license and certification to reassure yourself of this person’s ability to administer safe and healthy treatments.

7 - Muscle Creams and Patches

You could try using muscle creams and patches to heal back pain at home.  You often see these as big patches placed across the back in advertisements from various companies.  Some of the most well-known brands include Icy Hot, Ben Gay, Tiger/Eagle Palm, and BioFreeze. The way they work is that it distracts the nerve endings in your back muscles from the pain by causing a burning or cooling sensation.

8 - Herbal Remedies


  • Willow Bark: Willow bark is used as an alternative to Aspirin and is considered to be an effective natural remedy to treat pain.  They are purchased in strips or in powdered form which you put it in water before consuming it. Willow bark can also be steeped in tea.  The salicin content in willow bark reduces inflammation and once it's in the body, the salicin is metabolized into salicylic acid.

    Note that the salicylic acid in the body from willow bark is less than one-tenth the amount from an Aspirin tablet, but willow bark does not damage the stomach lining like Aspirin is known to do in some cases.

  • Tumeric: Although it’s unclear how this spice works against pain and inflammation, it contains a compound called curcumin which is an antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory properties.  Turmeric is also used to relieve arthritis pain and heartburn.

  • Cloves: While cloves are often used in food, it can be found as a medicine in the form of a capsule or powder form.  They could also be used as a topical pain reliever. The active ingredient is eugenol. It’s a natural pain reliever that is found in some over-the-counter pain rubs.

  • Devil’s Claw: This herb contains harpagosides which has shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and it is part of a class of compounds called iridoid glycosides.

9 - Take a Relaxing Epsom Salt Bath


Epsom salt has been used for a long time to ease aches and pains.  Epsom salt is a pure mineral compound consisting of magnesium and sulfate.  Magnesium reduces inflammation, helps muscle and nerve functions, as well as helping prevent the hardening of the artery.  Sulfate helps with nutrient absorptions, flush out toxins, and even help to ease migraine headaches. Epsom salt also helps relieve stress and anxiety, pain and muscle cramps.

10 - Try Essential Oils


  • Marjoram Essential Oils: This oil works well with muscles that are overextended without giving you any bad side effects.

  • Sweet Ginger Essential Oils:  Uses this oil to treat nausea that can accompany lower back pain.  Used in massages, this oil penetrates and soothes sore muscles. It could even be inhaled from a diffuser.

  • Frankincense Essential Oils: This oil is an effective remedy for stress and discomfort. It is best used topically as a remedy for pain.

  • Lavender Essential Oils: Lavender essential oils are used for many things which also includes easing lower back pain due to its anti-inflammatory properties.  They help calm your nerves, reduce stress, and help with sleep.

  • Eucalyptus Essential Oils: This is the most commonly used oil to treat sore muscles and pains.  It has strong anti-inflammatory properties so it’s great to dilute it in a carrier oil, used as a massage oil, or inhaled from a diffuser.

  • Peppermint Essential Oils: This oil’s analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties make this oil a great choice to treat back pain.

medical musings

I have resisted writing a blog since blogs were invented, for a variety of reasons. I try to be protective of my time; I could be caring for patients, or studying, or spending time with dear ones, or really pretty much anything else. But the decades fly by, and while I am so lucky to love my work, I may have more to contribute to my field than just moving from patient to patient and ducking in and out of the rooms that I treat folks in. For me, Chinese medicine is (to borrow from Raven Lang) an improvisational medicine. Each treatment is a lot like taking a solo. For a solo to have integrity, it must relate perfectly to the tune at hand, both musically and emotionally. The same is true for an acupuncture treatment. Each patient tells their story, through their description of their problem (say anxiety) along with unspoken signs and symptoms. The acupuncture treatment is a direct response to their story, composed on the spot, using all the knowledge, experience and intuition that I can muster. The treatment provides a counterpoint to the patient’s issue, and attempts to create harmony.

I find my professional life mirrors my musical life. I have stepped up to a microphone many thousands of times to create an improvised solo, and based on the response from fellow band members and from the audience, I have had some success. Almost no one in the audience will remember the notes that I played; if they remember anything it will be the feelings they had while I played.

This blog will be an attempt to move beyond improvisational work, and more into the realm of composition. I will try to organize what I do in a way where I can sense some of the greater patterns. I have learned from each and every one of the many thousands of patients that I have cared for, and aside from confidential charts there is no record of what I have done for the past 27 years. I will never share any personal patient information in this blog. Any time I mention a patient, know that all personal information has been fictionalized. Gender, age, occupation, etc., will never relate to an actual person.

Ultimately, I am selfishly writing this blog for me, to try and improve on the care I provide, and like a musical composition, to try and reconcile time, experience, and emotion in a unique way. You are more than welcome to join me.