Mostly everyone at some point in their life will experience lower back pain and the stats for this show that the number is typically around 80% in the western and more developed world. One of the reasons the back can give pain out is due to inflammation developing in the various tissues of the lower back such as the discs, bones, ligaments, muscles and tendons.
Recently there has been an emergence of turmeric as a powerful natural anti-inflammatory which could help to reduce inflammation and essentially reduce the amount of pain we experience in our backs.
We are going to have a look at the basics of back pain and all its different types and the positive benefits of turmeric for back pain.
Introduction to back pain and inflammation
Mechanical Lower Back Pain
A typical episode of mechanical lower back pain should last between 4-8 weeks if there is no trauma involved. If you have become injured due to trauma or an accident and dependent on what the severity of injury, your lower back pain might take a little longer than 8 weeks to clear. Over 99% of lower back pain episodes are typically non serious and do not require a scan.
Obvious injury such as sudden pain when lifting a heavy object can result in clear injury and you will feel pain at the time of performing a movement. Other ways to develop lower back pain may be less significant and come on more gradually over a longer period of time.
Management of mechanical lower back pain starts with appropriate rest and activity modification with the focus on keeping moving as often as possible when able. The next stage is to look at appropriate exercises in order to get the back mobile and recover its strength.
You should also be looking at physiotherapy during your injured period if you are struggling to make progress or are unsure what to do. Adding pain relief and heat treatments are also a positive step on the path to recovery.
Inflammatory Lower Back Pain
While mechanical lower back pain is the most common type of discomfort that most people will experience, there is also inflammatory lower back pain which is caused by auto immune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Symptoms will be at their worst on a morning for a long period of time resulting in pain, reduced movement and stiffness of the lower back.
These condition’s cause the body’s cells to attack themselves and make the lower back excessively inflamed and painful. Patient’s typically experience their symptoms in ‘flares’ which are spikes in their pain levels caused by the elevated levels of the disease and inflammation.
Patients of this condition will usually be monitored by a rheumatologist specialist and have regular blood tests and medication given to help them control their symptoms. Strong anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDS) is usually prescribed to help manage some forms of inflammatory arthritis.
If required there are stronger medications available called DMARDS (Disease-modifying anti rheumatic drug) and then there are newer drugs called Biologics which are more effective, advanced medications with less side effects to the DMARDS and NSAIDS.
General Inflammation and its Relationship with Pain
Inflammation is actually a response from the immune system to help aid and recover the body in healing and repair. As part of activity and your movements in day to day life, joints are consistently dealing with bearing weight, pressure and small amounts of damage.
Your body will typically be able to repair this damage by itself however the repair process will happen automatically without you noticing or seeing many symptoms and this is known as inflammation.
Sometimes you be experiencing elevated levels of this inflammation and it may cause you to be uncomfortable and sore. In relation to something like mechanical lower back pain this is a perfect of example of a back flaring up due to inflammation and your body trying to settle it down naturally – only you assist it with pain relief, movement and medication.
Acute inflammation usually lasts for only a few days and is normally helpful for healing, though it is often accompanied by unpleasant symptoms such as:
- Discomfort & Soreness
- Stiffness – this may produce reduced movement in the area affected, in the back it may reduce your function with tasks like washing and dressing.
- Redness – localised patches of redness may indicate inflammation of the local area
- Mild Heat – if there is severe heat – consult your GP or go to A&E
These symptoms can all be experienced in the back region. Inflammation’s main purpose is to identify localised damaged tissues in order for them to be healed and repaired so you can get back to normal. This may be why you suddenly get a very specific level of soreness in a cetain place in your body and it then resolves in a timely manner.
If your pain levels last longer than usual or you can’t cope with what you are experiencing, it would be best to speak with your GP to see if medication could help. However, if the symptoms are not severe and you feel that you could manage yourself, then this is where turmeric may come in to the equation for you.
Introduction to anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric
Turmeric is a spice that comes from the self-named turmeric plant. You may find it commonly used in Indian cuisine. Curry dishes are typically what turmeric is used in for the most part. It’s warm and bitter tastes are used for flavour for dishes but also for colouring for other foods like soups, mustards, butters and cheese.
It’s the root of turmeric which is important for inflammation and is now also used widely to make medicine. It contains a vital chemical called curcumin, which is often used as a cosmetic dye and food colouring. It’s yellow in nature but is thought to have an active role in managing inflammation.
Currently there have been many suggested uses for turmeric other than food stuff and is regarded in the health community as a superfood. There have been claims in some research as to its effectiveness for conditions such as:
- Reducing Cholesterol
- Hay fever
Most of these conditions have limited research but there has been positive results in the small amounts of research that has been performed which can show its diversity. These conditions all responded to curcumin which is the active chemical found in turmeric.
Evidence/Reason for T/LBP
If you are looking to use turmeric for back pain and to manage any inflammation, causing your symptoms, then a recommended dose needs to be taken for it to be effective. Simply cooking with turmeric or adding it on to your food will not help – there needs to be a minimum dose taken and it is required to be taken over a sustained period of time.
Curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) has been shown to have many antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant qualities is starting to show positive results in recent research in to the management of back pain and especially with back pain caused by intervertebral disc issues.
Typically, spinal discs have been hard to heal and their pain can extend for long periods of time. This is due to the fact that they don’t have a very good blood supply and that they are under a constant load all of the time, making them difficult to heal.
The new evidence (link to article – https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2015-06/curcumin-reduces-degenerative-disc-disease-pain) has shown that there is actually a highly dense capillary (blood supply) network within the intervertebral discs, which plays a role with healing and the inflammation of the discs.
The oral use of curcumin and its anti-inflammatory properties could now prove effective in helping people with back pain caused by spinal disc issues through increasing blood supply. It was previously believed that discs were similar to cartilage in their blood supply.
The ability for neovascularisation (the process of developing new blood supply) in discs is better than previously thought, so turmeric supplementation could now be very effective for management of this type of problem.
Studies of patients with arthritis
In patients with inflammatory arthritis there have been positive studies (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ptr.4639) showing reduction in pain levels and quality of life. The trial focused on giving the patients anti-inflammatory medication or curcumin supplement or a combination of the two. Out of all three groups, the curcumin group had the biggest significant improvement of all with the highest percentage even over the anti-inflammatory group.
This is a significant result, as all 3 groups showed improvement in symptoms but turmeric proves that it caused the best result in this study. This is a promising sign for people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, due to the nature of the disease and how flares of it drastically impact their life.
A natural supplement would be welcomed as a treatment method as it would be a useful addition to someone who may already be taking a lot of medication which have unpleasant side effects.
Other turmeric tests
Finally curcumin supplementation was reviewed in a large scale with a literature review (https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/jmf.2016.3705) which looked at multiple papers relating to turmeric supplementation and its effect on inflammation.
Overall it was found that there was positive benefits for the supplementation of turmeric and that further research is warranted in this area.
In research, the higher the number of participants with a positive result in the findings typically produces a more accurate result of the point that is trying to be proven. This research looked at the collective data of 8 papers which in total had a high number of participants.
Implementing turmeric for back pain
It is widely written that most recommendations suggest taking 500mg between 2 to 4 times per day, which would be extremely difficult if just trying to supplement via food.
There are now plenty of options in regard to turmeric/curcumin supplementation with independent suppliers as well as health food stockists selling high strength capsules which can be easily ingested.
There are high strength turmeric capsules of up to 2000mg which can be taken once daily in order to get a recommended dose and it is advised that you take them for a minimum of 3 months to get optimum results.
It is recommended that if you are taking any blood thinning drugs, you should consult your doctor before taking any turmeric supplementation as it is believed that it has a moderate reaction and may interfere with the effectiveness of these drugs.
To summarise – if your bad back is being caused due to inflammation, whether that being acute and mild or even if you have a predisposed inflammatory condition which affects your back, then supplementing with turmeric (and its active ingredient curcumin) has been confirmed by the latest research as having positive effects.
This is due to new evidence showing how turmeric positively impacts on inflammation levels and if the back is painful it can help to make those levels more comfortable.
Long term injuries to spinal discs have proven extremely troublesome to the public in the past, but turmeric has now been shown to have a potential positive impact on helping to heal these areas and reduce pain.
It’s now even easier than ever to supplement with turmeric and curcumin with high strength supplements of 2000mg available in easy to take capsules! Turmeric could be a useful supplement or replacement to pain relief and it doesn’t have any side effects, which could mean that if you have had any long term issues with medicine based pain relief then this may provide a welcome alternative.
Turmeric could be a healthy, cheap, vegan way to help manage your back pain, so be sure to check it out today!