Pain in the lower, middle, and upper back and neck. Occasionally there is visible curvature of the spine, but usually there are no apparent external symptoms.

What is Back Pain?

From Modern Western Medicine

Most people suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. Multiple causes may be involved, including stress, lifting heavy objects, pregnancy, straining individual muscles, poor posture, and prolonged sitting, especially in a chair that does not adequately support the back. Rest, analgesics, and anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed. Surgery is often used as well.

From Traditional Medicine

Back pain emerges from many causes, but the most common is from prolonged stress and fear, combined with consistent injury to the kidneys from poor dietary habits. Stress, as pioneer researcher, Hans Selye, pointed out, damages the kidneys. Traditional medicine regards the kidneys as the source of qi that is supplied to the entire body, but especially to the muscles of the lower back. As the kidneys and related muscles of the low back weaken, the muscles go into spasm. This causes the muscles on either side of the spine to pull unequally on the spine to drift in that direction. Eventually, disks and nerves become pinched from the bending of the spine to the right or left, causing acute pain.

Middle back pain is often caused by imbalances in the liver and spleen, organs that provide qi to the muscles of the middle back. Upper back pain can be caused by excess kidney energy that is transferred upward to the neck, excessive or deficient heart energy, or tension in the shoulder muscles cause by stress and liver-gall bladder imbalances.

In addition to these causes are the usual suspects: lifting heavy weight, prolonged standing, poor posture, lack of exercise, and kidney or reproductive problems.


General Recommendations

  • Review, and when possible, change the sources of the muscle tension: excessive sitting; lack of exercise; jobs that require repetitive motion; stress; or repressed emotions, especially anger and fear.
  • Regular aerobic exercise (see Exercise section in Part III).
  • Daily stretching exercise (see Exercise section in Part III).
  • Acupressure, therapeutic massage, and chiropractic are the most frequently successful forms of treatment. The practitioner should concentrate on relaxing and healing the muscles that support the back, rather than forcing the spinal vertebrae back into alignment, however.
  • Strengthen the kidneys, liver, gallbladder, and spleen (see Part IV).
  • Avoid excess anger and stress.
  • Lose weight, if overweight, especially if the stomach area is enlarged. (The weight tends to pull on the lower back.)

Foods to Eat

  • Whole grains, especially barley (for the kidneys), brown rice, millet, corn, and oats
  • A wide variety of fresh vegetables, especially leafy greens
  • Beans (especially healing for the kidneys)
  • Fruit


The following herbs may be taken internally for backache. A common dosage is ½ – 1 tsp. of tincture, three to four times daily:

  • White willow bark: contains salicin, a natural aspirin-like compound that relieves pain without the harmful side effects of aspirin
  • Meadowsweet: also a natural form of salicin
  • Cramp bark: relieves muscular tension and spasm

The following herbs can be used as topical applications to provide temporary relief of low back pain caused by muscular tension:

  • Arnica oil or gel: apply externally. Relieves muscular pain and inflammation; do not apply to broken skin.
  • Lobelia or cramp bark: antispasmodic herbs; add 1 tbsp. of tincture to 1 quart of hot water, soak a towel in the solution, and apply as a warm compress to the lower back


  • Arnica: for backache from overexertion or for a bruising feeling
  • Rhus toxicodendron: for a backache that feels better after being warmed up after continuous movement

Chinese Medicine

For backache that often results from kidney yin deficiency (or expanded kidneys):

  • Millet and barley
  • Tofu
  • String beans
  • Black beans, black soy beans, and mung beans and sprouts
  • Kuzu root
  • Watermelon and all other melons
  • Blackberries, mulberries, blueberries, huckleberries
  • Seaweeds
  • Spirulina and chlorella

Foods to Avoid

  • Animal products (they will stimulate the liver into a heat or stagnant condition and drain the kidneys)
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Hot spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, and garlic

Essential Oils

Essential oils can be used to help relieve backaches as a massage or compress to the painful areas or in a bath:

  • Chamomile: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, nervine, sedative
  • Marjoram: analgesic, antispasmodic, nervine, sedative
  • Lavender: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, nervine, sedative
  • Wintergreen, camphor, and eucalyptus: help warm and relax muscles when rubbed into the back


  • Hot compresses on painful part of back increases circulation
  • Follow hot compress with cold packs to reduce swelling
  • Take hot bath, especially with mineral salts


  • Aerobic exercise for at  least 30 minutes, three to four times per week
  • Stretching exercises daily
  • Chair exercise: Sit in a chair and lean forward until pain is felt; breath out and slowly lean farther, stretching muscles further
  • Knee pulls: Sit in a straight-backed chair. Lift your right knee and clasp it in both hands and pull it as close to your chest as possible. Exhale deeply as you feel tension or mild pain in your back. Do the same with your left leg. Do several repetitions.
  •  Do the same exercise while lying on mat placed on the floor. While lying on the mat, pull both knees toward your chest. Breathe out as you pull your knees toward your chest and as you feel the tension.
  • Reverse ankle pull. Stand at the back of a straight-backed chair. Bring your right ankle up behind you, grasp it with your right hand, and gently, but firmly, pull upward toward your back so that your thigh muscles stretch. Exhale as you pull. Do the same to your left leg.


Meditation and/or pray daily. Muscle tension begins in the mind, especially with fear. Try to release the need to control the outcomes of events, but picture positive outcomes to all situations.