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Back Pain

What is Back Pain?

Reported as affecting 80-percent of all people in America at one time in their life or another, back pain is one of the most common afflictions in our country today.  Be it in the form of spasms, sharp pain, dull aches, or even a tingling sensation, back pain happens when one or more of these symptoms emerge in someone’s back area as either a short or long-term condition.   The back is not only comprised of many different bones, muscles, connective tissues (like ligaments and tendons), and cartilage-based discs in between the vertebral bones. It is also the home of the spinal column and a complex array of nerves and nerve-endings.  The high incidence of back pain is often attributed to this sophisticated anatomy.

Western medicine claims that the cause of back pain can be from structural maladies such as nerves getting disturbed from herniated discs or strain to the muscles and ligaments that then cause injury.  It is also said that it can be from certain diseases such as fractures caused by osteoporosis, stress on the body caused by irregularities in the spine through diseases like scoliosis, and even more extreme diseases like cancer of the spine.

The Western approach to resolving back pain is varied and can include both medicinal and therapeutic intervention.  Many doctors may prescribe painkillers such as aspirin or ibuprofen to help lessen the pain, and in more extreme cases may prescribe muscle relaxers as well.  A patient may also be offered a physical therapy regimen, massage, or some form of either hot or cold therapy to help lessen their symptoms.  In particularly extreme cases, back pain may be treated with surgery with the intention of reversing damage to the nerves and other tissues.

Within the Western model of medicine, however, there is also a movement to reverse back pain through the diagnosis of what is known as tension myositis syndrome.This cites suppressed emotional pain as the cause and encourages the alleviation of symptoms through knowledge therapy and sometimes psychotherapy.

How Does Ayurveda View Back Pain?

As noted above, many if not most instances of back pain are the result of what happens when a structural problem like a herniated disc causes trauma to surrounding nerves.  Ayurveda considers trauma to the nervous system to be indicative of an aggravation and even derangement of the Vata dosha.

The Vata dosha is primarily based on the energy of movement and elimination in the body.  When the body is functioning properly and the Vata energy is in balance, the body retains the necessary moisture and grounding to ensure that the elimination of stool can happen with regularity.  When Vata energy gets aggravated from too much movement through activities like frenetic exercise and travel, and from consuming too many items encouraging coldness and dryness; the body can become cool and dry as a whole.  This dryness inhibits healthy elimination of the stool, and when this downward movement out of the body is hampered, the energy instead moves back up through the body and delivers the toxicity of the stool to the rest of the body through the nervous system.

Ayurveda considers the many incidences of back pain that are indicative of nerve damage to be associated with this particular doshic imbalance.  Ayurveda also considers back pain to be symptomatic of dryness and dysfunction of the connective tissue in the spinal joints, which is indicative of excessive Vata energy as well.

If a person creates a lot of movement through quick and nervous actions, the back will be the first place to suffer. Similarly, if a person has many thoughts and movement in the mind creating pressure and stress, this will also end up as a physical ailment as the body cannot take the constant pressure of this energy.

How Does Ayurveda Treat Back Pain?

Ayurveda’s main goal in treating back pain is to balance the aggravated Vata energy so as to strengthen the nervous system and reduce dysfunction in the joints. Accomplishing this goal requires the patient to favor the consumption of oils and cooked foods which will lubricate the system, avoid Vata-aggravating foods that further dry out the body, self-administer various therapies and treatments that help to nourish the body, and retain the services of a trained Ayurvedic practitioner to administer more sophisticated treatments like enemas and other therapies that help to create greater regularity and nourishment in the body as a whole.

Lifestyle Changes for Back Pain

When we neglect to establish the root cause of one illness, it can turn into another, stronger illness in the future.  The first step in resolving a specific ailment or disease in the body is to assess the nature of our lifestyle and make general modifications.  Living our day-to-day life with a deliberate intention to improve our health will help us to both resolve the disease we are suffering from and prevent further incidence of it and other diseases in the future.  The following tasks will help to balance aggravated Vata energy and foster greater back health as a whole:

  • Favor cooked foods over raw foods, and add oil or ghee to foods after cooking them to increase lubrication of the colon.
  • Avoid dry foods such as chips, cold cereals, cookies, crackers, and nutrition bars.
  • Refrain from suppressing the natural urge to urinate and defecate, as well as sneezing and coughing, as doing so can aggravate Vata energy.
  • Cultivate a daily practice of yoga postures that gently stretch the body and strengthen the muscles in the afflicted area of the back.
  • Limit the amount of sexual activity in response to back pain, as excessive amounts of sex can further aggravate Vata energy.
  • Sleep on a firm mattress or futon that provides ample support to the back, or sleep on the floor. Favor sleeping on the back instead of the stomach.
  • Make a paste of ginger powder and water and apply this to the area of the back causing pain. Let this paste sit until dry, then wash it away and apply eucalyptus oil to the same area for several minutes. Repeat this routine on a daily basis until the alleviation of symptoms.
  • Enlist the help of an Ayurvedic practitioner to administer oil enemas and other treatments so as to stimulate the functionality of the colon.
  • Avoid running and quick movements.
  • Avoid lifting heavy things.
  • Use your legs for lifting light objects as back strength mainly comes from the legs and not the stomach.
  • Sit on the floor and not on the chair or sofa. This will strengthen the back.
  • Be careful when walking pets as they may jerk you around from side to side.
  • Avoid being horizontal in bed or on the sofa for long periods of time, as this will foster rigidity of the back.

Better Foods For Back Pain

Ayurveda teaches us that disease and sickness are derived from poor digestion and inappropriate food choices. We then have the opportunity to make deliberate and more conscious decisions as to what foods we do and do not put in our body which increases the chance of resolving the body’s imbalance.

Food needs to be in season, in moderate combinations of one or two food groups, not too hot or cold, in a modest enough quantity to allow for room in the stomach later, consumed without too much liquid which hinders digestive power, and should be fresh and not left over for more than a few hours.  The following foods will help to balance Vata energy and diminish the incidence of back pain:





Rice (white basmati)

Milk (warm)

Oats (cooked)



Fresh figs

Sweet potatoes

Olive oil






Sesame oil



Foods To AVOID In Response To Back Pain

While some foods can help to balance an aggravated dosha, other foods can cause further imbalance. Dry and cold foods as well as pungent, bitter and astringent tastes will dry out the body and aggravate the Vata dosha.Sour, salty and pungent tastes as well as spicy foods will add more heat to the body and aggravate the Pitta dosha.Sweet, sour and salty tasting foods will add heaviness to the body and aggravate the Kapha dosha. The following foods can aggravate Vata energy, and should therefore be avoided in response to back pain:





Oats (dry)



Raw and cold foods

Most legumes including green lentils and garbanzo beans

Dry foods like raisins and cold cereal

Beverages For Back Pain

Generally, Ayurveda discourages the consumption of too many cold beverages, as doing so hinders the strength of the body’s digestive fire. Instead, favors room temperature or hot beverages to encourage the strength of the digestive fire.

  • Hot water, especially during meals and first thing in the morning.
  • Herbal teas of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, castor root, and fennel.
  • Drinking half a cup of hot milk with a tablespoon of ghee and adding some saffron or nutmeg is very good for the joints and the sternum.
  • Avoid cold and frozen drinks.
  • Avoid sugary or fizzy drinks that blend with the digestive juice and make it weak.
  • Avoid alcohol, coffee, and black tea.



Herbs For Back Pain

Herbs are used in the Ayurvedic system much like Western medicine utilizes drugs and vitamins and can be taken like tea 2 to 3 times a day. Herbs aid in the digestion of food, the breakdown and elimination of toxins, and help to strengthen the cellular structure of our system for greater vitality. Herbs become more potent once mixed with other herbs of similar properties. Mix together 2 to 4 different herbs from the below list by adding a quarter to a half teaspoon full of each, for a total of 1 teaspoon. Drink these in half cup of hot water.


Castor root

Ginger (mixed with equal parts gokshura)



Gokshura (see ginger)






Yoga Postures For Back Pain


When applied therapeutically to specific ailments, yoga postures provide an opportunity to strengthen the body, rid it of toxic matter, and restore balance. The postures included in this section can be practiced as part of a more general sequence or can be focused on in short sessions. When first exploring yoga postures, it is best to only practice them for twenty minutes or so per day and buildup from there once the body becomes more flexible.

Shoulder stand
Knee to chest
Easy seat

Shoulder stand
Knee to chest

Shoulder stand
Forward bend
Easy seat


Aromatherapy For Back Pain

Aromatherapy utilizes the fragrances of essential oils when applied to the skin. Essential oils can burn the skin and therefore must be diluted with a base oil such as sesame, coconut, sunflower, canola, or mustard oil. Mix 1 fluid ounce of base oil with about 12 drops of essential oil before applying to skin. You can also just mix 5 drops of base oil to one drop of essential oil if using on one spot.

  • Back pain can be treated with basil, camphor, cedar, eucalyptus, frankincense, ginger, lavender, lily, lotus, musk, myrrh, patchouli, sandalwood, or cinnamon oil.
  • Use a sesame oil base.
  • Apply oil on the skin between the eyebrows, below the belly button, and in the afflicted areas on the back.

Mantra Therapy For Back Pain

Ayurvedic tradition suggests that repeating certain words or sounds can help a person suffering from an ailment to restore subtle balance to nerve tissue and enhance one’s mental clarity. Different sounds are prescribed to either repeat mentally or chant outwardly. These sounds are also used and repeated in the mind for the purpose of spiritual growth.

  • To help resolve back pain, repeat the syllable “Ram” (pronounced Rahm) for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
  • As a Vata-related disorder, it is helpful to inwardly repeat this syllable for the duration of time it is practiced and not say it out loud.


Breathing Practices For Back Pain


Controlling the breath is a central practice toward developing peace and stillness in the mind and body. When the breath is under our control, we are no longer at the mercy of the senses that are stimulated by everything and lead to greater fluctuations of the mind. When applied to the context of resolving specific ailments, the breath is used as a tool for developing lung capacity, heating and cooling the body, and resolving mental afflictions like anxiety and stress.



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