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Back pain, which includes neck pain and sciatica, is extremely common, affecting millions of Americans at some point in their lives, particularly low-back pain. According to a study in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work.
“Inflammation and the inflammatory response within the body is many times the culprit when dealing with neck and back pain,” says Chris Crawford, VP of Education at LifeSeasons, a supplement company based in Texas. Underlying conditions associated with inflammation include problems with nerves, discs, muscles, or osteoarthritis.
A pro-inflammatory diet only worsens pain. Foods that have been linked to inflammation include nightshade vegetables (e.g., tomatoes, eggplant), gluten, refined carbohydrates (including sugar), and unhealthy fats such as trans fats, as well as some vegetable oils. Foods that help quell inflammation include salmon, walnuts, pineapple, spinach, turmeric (the spice), ginger, garlic, and blueberries.
9 Highly Effective Ingredients for Neck & Back Pain
“If the pain is chronic, it’s important to support your system with a daily anti-inflammatory supplement,” says Crawford. “This will help with chronic and acute pain.” The following natural remedies have been used for thousands of years for pain and inflammation, says Crawford, who believes in the wisdom of nature. “Many of these herbs and nutrients have more recently been supported from a scientific basis—progress of science!”
Turmeric has been used by humans medicinally for more than 4,000 years, but it wasn’t until 1971 that researchers in India began to document the clinical evidence of its anti-inflammatory properties. Since then, scientists from around the world have tested the herb in numerous lab and animal studies, as well as in human trials. Altogether, the research shows that turmeric can help prevent or treat virtually any condition where inflammation plays a role.
Curcuminoids, active constituents of turmeric, support a proper inflammatory response and help modulate inflammatory chemicals. They also help curb activation of transcription factor NF-kB (NF-kB is chronically active in autoimmune and inflammatory issues). When shopping for turmeric, make sure to look for a highly absorbable, standardized extract, such as Meriva curcumin that uses phytosomes, healthy fats that optimize absorption.
Boswellia, also known as Indian Frankincense, standardized to boswellic acid, inhibits the overproduction of inflammatory chemicals. Unlike some herbs, which may take weeks to be effective, boswellia works quickly—in one study, boswellia extract reduced pain and improved knee-joint functions within seven days. The anti-inflammatory actions of boswellia have been shown in several studies to ease pain, reduce swelling, and improve mobility in patients with arthritis or osteoarthritis.
3. Tart cherry extract
Tart cherry extract supports muscles and muscle soreness as well as uric acid buildup in the body (good for gout sufferers). Tart cherry extract—as well as cherry juice and dark cherries—is high in anti-inflammatory compounds called anthocyanins. Studies at Michigan State University show that tart cherry extract stops the formation of some inflammatory agents about 10 times as effectively as aspirin.
Bromelain, derived from pineapple, is a proteolytic enzyme, meaning it breaks down proteins. It works on protein-based antigens that are known to cause inflammation in the body. It helps relieve muscle pain and swelling. Other research shows that bromelain can help ease asthma, sinusitis, coughs, and other respiratory-related symptoms.
5. Protease enzymes
Protease enzymes, also proteolytic enzymes when taken away from food, help break down protein-based antigens that are known to cause inflammation in the body. Proteolytic enzymes support overall health, but they are best known for their anti-inflammatory power. They can also help thin excess mucus and support the breakdown of toxins, allergens, and unhealthy levels of fibrin in the blood (related to clotting).
Quercetin, one of nature’s great anti-inflammatories, works synergistically with bromelain to inhibit pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body. It’s found naturally in apples (particularly red skin), red onions, capers, and buckwheat.
Hops is a nervine, which calm the nervous system. Studies have pitted hops head-to-head against ibuprofen and found that it is just as effective. For example, in a study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people took either an extract of hops or ibuprofen, and samples of their blood were tested during the following nine hours. Both substances inhibited harmful COX 2 inflammation to the same degree. Researchers concluded that, “Hops extracts may represent a safe alternative to ibuprofen for non-prescription anti-inflammation.”
Skullcap, like hops, is a nervine. In fact, it’s often used in herbal formulas for insomnia and/or anxiety. It’s also used by herbalists to help promote healthy lung and respiratory function, as well as relieve constipation
9. White willow
White willow, chemically related to aspirin, is traditionally used for pain. It has even been shown to be effective for cluster and tension headaches. White willow has a long history of medicinal use—dating back more than 5,000 years. Its roots go back to Europe and Central Asia, where it was used as a powerful pain relief remedy. Ancient Egyptians were said to value white willow for its analgesic and inflammation-busting properties.
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