Alternative therapies

Herbal Remedies for Back Pain

Who has not, at one time or another, complained of lower back pain? It is in fact one of the most common forms of human pain—I often have to bring ice packs upstairs to my father when he is lying down. In almost all cases it is a symptom of some underlying health problem which, if not properly treated, can grow worse with time. Some of the most common causes include poor posture, lifting heavy objects improperly, muscular strain, spasms, slipped discs and weak dorsal muscles.

Fortunately such treatment need not consist of expensive surgical procedures. Instead one can turn to a variety of herbal remedies to eliminate the problem. Some of them are described in the following paragraphs.

1) Devil’s claw, cayenne and white willow bark

The devil’s claw, a native of South Africa, is a relative of the sesame plant. It is one of three plants—the other two being cayenne and white willow bark, which is also the chief ingredient of aspirin—that have been suggested as possible back pain remedies in a report by Canadian researchers WebMD, but which are not being recommended by the authors of that review until further research can sort out what their potential benefits and risks are. Devil’s claw may ease the pain taken orally in doses of 50 or 100 milligrams. All three herbs have been found to ease backaches more than placebos. Cayenne in addition has been found to be at least equal to homeopathic gel. No long-term results were shown from any of the studies as they only lasted for six weeks. Evidence has been moderate for willow bark and cayenne and strong for devil’s claw, which also has anti-arthritic effects.

Devil's Claw for lower back pain
Bark of White Willow for lower back pain

2) Other therapeutic herbs

Capsaicin cream—the ingredient that is responsible for the hot flavor of chili—provides temporary relief for backaches. It should be applied every four or five hours. Those with chronic back pain should have a diet that consists of such herbs as garlic, ginger, tulsi and turmeric. One recipe calls for ten tulsi leaves boiled in one cup of water until only half that amount remains, adding salt after the mixture has cooled. This syrup should be taken once a day, twice if the pain is severe.

Capsaicin cream for arthritis

Another therapeutic recipe is made from a decoction of garlic, ginger, onion and turmeric in 10 milliliters of water, subsequently mixed with 100 ml of mustard oil. This mixture is for massaging the back. This and the previous recipe are taken from Planet Ayurveda, which has produced many similar formulas.

Kaishoreguggul tablets are effective if taken three times a day after meals. The herbs given in the list below also cure dorsalgia in the ways given:

  •  anti-inflammatory medicines—saw palmetto, cat’s claw, licorice, bromelain, valeria, rosemary
  •  pain relievers—burdock, feverfew, stinging nettle, cinnamon, holy basil, ginger
  • topical pain relievers—coriander, mustard seed extract, cayenne pepper, mint greens such as spearmint and peppermint
  • antispasmodic medicines—black haw, cramp bark
  •  muscle relaxant—chamomile
  • muscle strengthener—yarrow
  •  increase of circulation—bilberry, gingko biloba leaves

A number of herbs have more than one of these effects. For instance, grape seed extract is an anti-inflammatory medicine, but it also increases the circulation. Horsetail provides pain relief and also speeds healing. Angelica is has pain relieving, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. Kava root is an anesthetic as well as a pain reliever. St. John’s wort herbal oil can be applied externally to relieve nerve pain, as can a poultice made from the fresh leaves of the rue, an active rubefacient (reddening agent).

The Beautiful Yellow Flowers of St John’s wort

An increasing number of people are also turning to various forms of traditional Chinese medicine their quest for a cure for their back pain.

The medicinal herbs mentioned above come in tablet form but they are generally much more effective if taken in whole plant form. If two or three plants are taken in combination, they can reinforce and complement each other.

It is important to consult one’s physician, especially if one is already taking prescription medications. The combination of drugs can produce harmful side effects.

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