7 Hacks To Reduce Back Pain Without Taking Any Medication
Because pain is, literally, all in your head
Pain is personal. No blood test or scan can tell your doctor how much of it you’re feeling. And what relieves one guy’s aches might not make a dent in yours. That’s because pain is, literally, all in your head.
Like feelings of warmth or pleasure, pain is something your brain creates based on the sensory information it receives from your body, according to research from the University of Oxford in the U.K. And a lot of factors can affect how much pain your brain perceives. Anxiety, fatigue, and even the expectation of pain can raise or lower your agony, the research shows.
Likewise, there are lots of ways to relieve pain that have nothing to do with pills. Here are eight of them.
1. SPEND TIME WITH FRIENDS
Hanging out with close pals fires up your brain’s endorphin system, says Robin Dunbar, Ph.D., a professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford. Endorphins are feel-good neurochemicals that can calm activity in your brain’s centres, which may explain why that bro-time reduces pain, Dunbar says.
On the other hand, social isolation—that is, spending too much time alone and away from your friends and family—is linked to worse lower back pain, per research from the University of Melbourne in Australia.
2. LIGHTEN UP
Laughter is also a potent pain-reducer, Dunbar says. His research shows laughing, whether you’re joking with friends or watching a funny movie, can raise your pain threshold. Again, Dunbar credits endorphins.
3. SCHEDULE A MASSAGE
A 2015 study from Mayo Clinic is some of the most recent research that suggests a massage can knock out, or at least knock down, your perception of pain.
Pressure receptors in your skin respond to another person’s touch by activating your brain’s vagus nerve, says Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami. Increased activity in your vagus nerve relieves stress, Field says. That drop in stress (and stress-related hormones like cortisol) mellows your pain, she explains.
4. ROLL WITH THE PUNCTURES
Using a foam roller to knead your muscles can reduce pain and soreness—even if you don’t roll the part of your body that’s hurting, shows a study from Canada and Australia.
Acupuncture too, can knock down your pain by as much as 55 percent, according to a review study in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Like massage, both acupuncture and foam rolling may reduce pain by ramping up vagal activity in your brain, Field says.
5. WORK UP A SWEAT
Twenty-five minutes of aerobic exercises such as running, cycling, and swimming reduced pain perception by 28 percent, per a study in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development. Whether you’re grappling with lower back pain, or a chronic pain condition like fibromyalgia, exercise seems to help, the study authors say.
A related study from the journal Pain, found athletes had a higher tolerance for pain than non-athletes. More research has linked weight lifting to similar pain-lowering benefits.
These study teams say exercise activates opioid receptors in your brain, which calm pain. Many over-the-counter and prescription painkillers also work by activating your brain’s opioid system.
6. CENTRE YOURSELF
Multiple studies, including this 2016 paper in the Journal of Neuroscience, have linked mindfulness meditation to pain relief.
That study’s authors say it’s not yet clear just how mindfulness works its magic. But their research shows mediation doesn’t relieve pain by goosing your brain’s opioid system. That means mediation may help knock out your pain even when painkillers don’t work.
7. STRETCH IT OUT
An hour of yoga or stretching each week can provide months of relief from low back pain, shows research in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Those studied practiced approximately 55 minutes each week of the 12-week study.
The study’s authors say the mental component of yoga may enhance the physical benefits of regular practice.