Whether you're a twenty-something marathoner or a lifelong yogi, you've almost definitely suffered neck or back pain in your life — maybe even chronically. The reason these maladies are so prevalent is also why they can be tough to beat. There are a million different causes, and the same fix won't work for all of 'em. Maybe you slept funny. Maybe you forgot to stretch after your run. Maybe you busted one too many moves last night and now you're paying the price.
Whatever the source of your distress, there's at least one remedy for it on this list. Don't know what's causing it? Don't freak. We found a few safe fixes that are proven not to make things worse. So, click through to find the magic bullet you've been looking for.
Hit The Mat
Good for: Pretty much everyone.
Studies have shown that yoga has better results for chronic lower back pain than
pain meds or physical therapy. The same goes for injuries sustained through any sort of physical exertion (that means anything from triathlon training to carrying a box up stairs — FYI, lift with the legs!).
How it works: Full-body stretching and strengthening addresses muscles many of us never engage otherwise. It releases built up tension, and helps keep future injuries at bay.
The Fine Print: Even yoga, if done without supervision, can cause injury. So, even if you’re not the class type, sign up for a few sessions before trying to DIY at home with a YouTube video.
Good for: Those with chronic pain, especially stress-related.
Harvard published the results of a study with 18,000 participants, in which 50% saw a decrease in chronic pain from acupuncture.
How it works: An acupuncturist will insert tiny needles (about the breadth of a hair) at different points along your body. The needles cause your body to release endorphins (natural painkillers) and can boost your energy and mood. Some people notice a change immediately; it takes a few sessions for others. After the pain subsides, you’ll just need the occasional maintenance session.
The Fine Print: Board-certified acupuncturist Dr. Lucy Chen recommends seeing a doctor if your pain is new, before trying acupuncture or anything else. It’s important to rule out serious medical conditions that could be causing your pain, before exploring pain management options.
Check Your Magnesium Levels
Good for: Those with exercise-induced muscle pain, nerve pain, and/or fibromyalgia.
How it works: Our muscles need calcium and magnesium to function properly — expanding and contracting at the right time. If your levels are out of whack, it can be hard for muscles to relax, which can cause or exacerbate pain.
The Fine Print: Since the ratio of calcium to magnesium is important (2:1 is often suggested as optimal), make sure to chat with a medical professional before starting any sort of supplement regimen. To up your magnesium intake the natural way, try eating more leafy greens, beans and lentils, avocados, fish, and nuts and seeds.
Take A Swim
Good for: Those with exercise-induced muscle pain, anyone who wants to strengthen their back and core.
There are myriad benefits to incorporating swimming into your fitness routine, not the least of which is its impact on muscle pain. In a study of 35 participants with low back pain, over 90% felt an improvement after six months of swimming. In the same study, participants who swam twice a week or more had much better results than folks who swam only once a week.
How it works: Swimming takes pressure off the joints, so it’s low impact. On top of that, it strengthens your core muscles. Breast stroke and backstroke are said to be the safest and most effective for ameliorating neck and back pain.
The Fine Print: If you’re a beginner, work with a coach or a trainer to make sure your form is on-point before going solo.
Get A Rubdown
Good for: Everyone!
I’m a huge proponent of massages and get them whenever I can. The benefits are too many to list, but they help with everything from muscle tension and stress, to depression and immunity.
How it works: Many elements of massage contribute to minimizing pain. There’s the obvious benefit of working through muscle tightness and realigning the body, but more general effects like being in a relaxing environment, being touched, and increasing body awareness can all contribute to a healthier you. Sports and Thai massages are especially effective on localized pain, as they include stretching and are targeted to those with injuries.
Upgrade Your Sleeping Arrangements
Good for: Everyone, but especially those with chronic neck and/or back pain.
If you’ve been sleeping on the same mattress (or pillow) for years, it might be to blame for your neck or back pain.
How it works: Doctors say a medium-firm mattress best confirms to the curves of the spine. If your mattress is on the harder side, you can get the same effect by topping it with 1.5-2 inches of padding.
Additionally, one of the most common causes of neck pain is having your neck twisted out of proportion over several hours. The right pillow will support your head and neck in their neutral position (meaning, the normal curve of the neck is not compromised). Try an orthopedic or cervical pillow, designed to support the natural shape/curve of your head and neck while you sleep.
Stand Up For Yourself
Good for: Anyone with a desk job, or who sits for prolonged periods of time.
All this sitting actually weakens our butt muscles (yikes), which makes the front half of our bodies (the hips, specifically) overcompensate. Tight hips create tension on the lower spine, and, voila — back pain. On top of that, sitting all day leaves your spine in an unnaturally open position, and compresses the vertebrae.
How it works: Standing alleviates these problems by forcing us into better posture, and builds muscle in the back and legs to prevent the overcompensation that occurs from too much sitting.
The Fine Print: Standing all day CAN strain lower back muscles and/or lead to sore legs and feet. Your best bet may be to have a convertible desk, which allows you to sit or stand, avoiding over-tiring any muscles.