An Ayurvedic Approach to Back Pain
Despite being a common condition, back pain often feels difficult and even impossible to treat. Whether one experiences a backache after a long day of physical exertion or finds their back more regularly in pain due to other lifestyle factors, back pain comes in many forms and intensities. Oftentimes, treatments that provide immediate relief are only temporary in effect, and back pain lingers as a recurrent condition. Especially for those who experience chronic back pain, unproductive visits to doctor’s offices and days spent at home because it feels too difficult to walk can lead many to feel like their pain is an inevitable and unsolvable condition.
However, while back pain might seem like a mysterious and insurmountable condition, Ayurveda believes that such pain is never something we should resign ourselves to—nor do we deserve to live in such a state. If we are attuned to both our internal state and our environment, we can identify sources of imbalance and institute effective lifestyle changes that can lead to long-lasting results. Whether one wants to alleviate PMS symptoms or combat brain fog, an Ayurvedic approach can illuminate specific points of weakness within our own bodies and offer concrete, natural strategies for improving the balance between ourselves and our environment. Back pain is no different—equipped with an Ayurvedic understanding of its root causes, we can feel empowered to take charge of our ailments and practice effective solutions.
How Ayurveda Views Back Pain
Back pain takes a number of different forms—it can affect many areas, from the upper back to the lower back and the base of the spinal cord, and it can occur along the muscles, spinal nerves, joints and discs. There are also a wide range of potential causes for this pain, including sitting with poor posture, not eating a balanced diet, texting or typing too much and engaging in strenuous exercise and other forms of labor. Understanding on a more immediate level what kind of lifestyle practices may be causing your back pain is a good first step in rectifying the situation: for example, if you find that your back feels strained after a long period of sitting at a desk, make sure to insert movement breaks and to sit with an erect and well-balanced posture.
Ayurveda locates the root cause of back pain as an excess of Vata, which is characterized by ether and air. When Vata becomes elevated, there is an influx of dryness and stiffness, which in turn negatively impacts the spinal cord, making it difficult to bend, twist, stand and walk. To remedy back pain, an Ayurvedic approach involves the pacification of Vata.
Tips for Alleviating Back Pain
Eat a Vata-Pacifying Diet
Since Vata is dry, cold, rough and light, it’s important to fill your diet with foods that alleviate these qualities. As such, Ayurveda recommends avoiding spicy foods, which can have a drying effect. In addition, it’s best to avoid cold drinks and raw foods, and rajasic foods that cause inflammation, like meat, eggs, dairy and fermented foods.
Instead, try to fill your diet with warming, moist foods, like soups, stews and curries. Make sure to incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet, especially vegetables that are cooked—not raw.
For more information on how to eat a vata-pacifying diet and how to eat for your dosha more generally, check out our blog here.
Similarly to how Ayurveda recommends eating warm foods, it is essential to keep yourself warm when experiencing back pain to combat the coldness of Vata. Whether that be by taking warm showers or dressing warmly, there are many ways to ensure that your body is well-heated, as coldness will only make your back more susceptible to pain.
One extremely potent way to alleviate back pain on your own is through self-massage, which is a practice that involves massaging oil into different parts of your body. You can tailor your self-massage routine to focus on specific areas and to include oils that target your needs. For those with back pain, applying a warm massage oil onto your back can help soothe tension. Sesame and mustard oils are especially revered for their pain-alleviating abilities. In addition, our UMA Absolute Essential Self Massage Oil is made with a versatile formula designed to reinvigorate skin, detoxify the body and combat inflammation, stagnation and pain.
For more information on self-massage and how to get started, check out our blogs on the topic:
Try Out Ayurvedic Herbs
There are a number of herbs that combat the inflammation associated with back pain, including turmeric, ginger and black pepper. In addition, since the seat of Vata is the colon, the strength of one’s digestion can actually impact back pain—those who experience indigestion and constipation, the toxins that the body cannot excrete spread to other parts of the body, including the back. It’s thus important to eat well and take care of one’s digestion. One way to combat indigestion and bloating is by taking a triphala supplement (like our UMA Digestive Detox Herbal Supplement), which alleviates inflammation and cleanses the digestive system.
Practice Yoga & Pranayama
Practicing yoga, which focuses on bringing balance to the body through stimulating flows of energy and circulation, can be a great way to alleviate back pain. If your pain is severe, try starting off with gentle, soothing poses like cat cow and plank. In addition, focusing on pranayama—or yogic breathwork—can work wonders in alleviating back pain, soothing pain and inflammation and boosting overall immunity. In particular, Alternate Nostril Breathing is an especially potent Vata-alleviating exercise, which involves breathing in and out through alternate nostrils to promote stillness and combat the mobility of Vata.
While back pain can be a debilitating condition, implementing these Ayurvedic practices can aid in providing long-term relief through holistic and natural means.