Back Pain: Causes and Alternative and Natural Treatments

What Is the Anatomy of the Human Back?

Muscular System of the Human Back

The human back is made up of bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. These parts make up the spinal column. The spinal column consists of 30 bones called the vertebrae. The spinal column helps hold up the upper part of the body. The back is an integral part of the human body (National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases [NIAMS], 2013.

Why Do We Experience Back Pain?

back pain personBack pain can affect people of all ages and ethnicities. Back pain can be acute or chronic. Acute back pain usually lasts a couple of days and is generally treated by orthodox practitioners by Ibuprophen or other over-the-counter pain medications or  prescription drugs.  However, people can becoming addicted to pain medications especially with chronic pain. Chronic back pain normally occurs for more than three months. Older people are more susceptible to back pain because as they age, their bone strength decreases and muscles become less elastic and flexible. People who are overweight have more back pain due to the excess amount of weight the back has to support. Children who carry heavy backpacks for hours during the school day may experience back pain. Back pain can also affect people who live sedentary lifestyles, smoke often and have unhealthy diets (NIAMS, 2013).

Spine Disorders

What are the Primary Causes of Back Pain?

back pain- woman

Mayo Clinic (2014) provides a list of possible reasons for the cause or causes of back pain:

  1. Ankylosing spondylitis
  2. Fibromyalgia
  3. Herniated Disk
  4. Kidney Infection
  5. Obesity
  6. Osteoarthritis
  7. Osteomyelitis
  8. Osteoporosis
  9. Paget’s Disease of Bones
  10. Poor Posture
  11. Pregnancy
  12. Sacroiliitis
  13. Sciatica
  14. Scoliosis
  15. Spinal Fractures
  16. Spinal Stenosis
  17. Sprains and strains

How are Back Problems Diagnosed?

Acute back pain can be traced back to an injury or trauma. Chronic back pain is usually a symptom of an underlying disorder or illness. To receive an accurate diagnosis for the back pain, visiting a family physician may be the wisest decision.

Back Xray
The physician may take a look at your medical history along with your family history to rule out any genetic predispositions to back disorders. A thorough physical exam will be conducted. In addition, a few other tests may be performed. These tests include, but are not limited, to the following (NIAMS, 2013):

  1. Ultrasound imaging
  2. Bone Scans
  3. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  4. Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  5. X-ray

What is the Traditional  Treatment?

Cancer Exercise Treadmill To relieve acute and chronic back pain, traditional methods used by orthodox medical doctors or practitioners usually include:

  1. Hot and cold compresses to decrease swelling and pain.
  2. Medications such as Advil, Ibuprofen and muscle relaxants or prescription drugs to eliminate or reduce pain.
  3. Low impact exercises such as walking, climbing and swimming have been proven to increase muscle tone and decrease tension in the back.

Prescription drugs can be addictive and harmful to the body with long-term use.

Prescription Drugs Dilemma
What are Alternative Treatments?

Other non-traditional ways to ease back pain include the following:

  1. Chiropractic care. Back pain is one of the most common reasons that people see a chiropractor.
  2. Acupuncture. A practitioner of acupuncture inserts sterilized stainless steel needles into the skin at specific points on the body. Some people with low back pain report that acupuncture helps relieve their symptoms.Back Massage
  3. Therapeutic Massage.  If your back is caused by tense or overworked muscles, massage therapy may help. Massage can help stretch tight muscles and circulate the blood, relieving pain
  4. Yoga. There are several types of yoga, a board discipline that involves practicing specific postures or poses, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. Yoga has been found to relieve stress and be effective in eliminating pain.
  5. Naturopathy  The use of natural methods and non-toxic remedies to improve or restore health is known as naturopathy. It includes herbal remedies, homeopathic remedies, change in diet, etc.
  6. Physical therapy and exercise are considered alternative and natural treatments. Exercise can be very effective in treating back pain. Research studies confirm that those with osteoarthritis or sciatica back pain are greatly relieved by a daily practice of physical therapy and exercises. Be sure to consult with your trusted health practitioner before starting new exercises.


National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skins Diseases. (2013). Handout on Health: Back Pain. Back Pain. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from

Mayo Clinic. (2014). Definition. Back Pain: Symptom. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from




This articleHang Pham, MBHA Health Educator is written by Hang Pham. Hang Pham is a Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance Health and Wellness Educator. Hang Pham was born in Hoc Mon, Vietnam. She came to America in 1994, becoming a U.S. citizen in 2011. Hang graduated from Seaside High School with diploma and received her AA in General Studies from Monterey Peninsula College in 2011. She received her BA in Collaborative Health and Human Services from California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) in 2012. In addition to working as a volunteer staff with the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance, she currently works as a Clerical Aid in the Human Resources Department of Salinas City Hall. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at

The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a charitable, independent registered nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and does not endorse any particular products or practices. We exist as an educational organization dedicated to providing free access to health education resources, products and services. Claims and statements herein are for informational purposes only and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The statements about organizations, practitioners, methods of treatment, and products listed on this website are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information is intended for educational purposes only. The MBHA strongly recommends that you seek out your trusted medical doctor or practitioner for diagnosis and treatment of any existing health condition.

Sciatica Pain – What is It? How Can it be Prevented and Treated?

Back Pain WomanWhat are the symptoms of sciatica? Why does a pain in your back affect your leg and foot?

What are sciatica symptoms?
Sciatica usually affects only one side of the lower body. Often, the pain extends from the lower back all the way through the back of the thigh and down through the leg. Sciatica can sometimes be misdiagnosed.  Sometimes people experience numbness or weakness.  Sometimes it is a tingling sensation. Depending on where the sciatic nerve is affected, the pain may also travel down to the foot or toes. Some of the symptoms are:

  • one-sided pain
  • weakness or numbness of the thigh and leg
  • tingling sensations
  • pain, tingling or weakness of the foot or toes
  • lower back sharp pain when bending
  • continuous or intermittent pain
  • disabling pain

For some people, the pain or weakness from ssciatic nerveciatica can be continuous, quite severe and disabling. For others, the sciatica pain might be infrequent and irritating, but it is possible that it may get worse over time.  The severity of the symptoms depends on the cause of the sciatica.

What causes sciatica?
Sciatica is often a result of a lumbar disc herniation.   However, any inflammation of the sciatic nerve can result in sciatica pain symptoms, such as radiculopathy.  Causes of sciatica include:

  1. a pinched nerve from a disc
  2. irritation of the nerve from adjacent bones
  3. muscle inflammation
  4. internal bleeding, infections
  5. tumors
  6. injury
  7. and other causes.


Sciatica Pain CausesSometimes sciatica  occurs because of compression on the nerve during pregnancy. Sciatica pain can also be caused from long-term carrying of an oversized wallet on one side of the hip. This would cause compression upon the nerve and result in sciatica pain.


A herniated disk, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, or other abnormalities of vertebrae can all cause pressure on the sciatic nerve.   Sciatica pain may also result from the piriformis muscle located deep in the buttocks, pinching the sciatic nerve. This is known as piriformis syndrome and usually develops after an injury or overuse. It can be difficult to diagnose.

Sciatica Piriformis SyndromePiriformis syndrome has been estimated to cause 6% of sciatica, but recent studies show that it is most likely more common. This is due to electrodiagnostic and imaging techniques. It has been underdiagnosed and undertreated.

A person with piriformis syndrome typically complains of sciatic pain, tenderness in the buttock, and more difficulty sitting than standing. The pain usually occurs from overuse or muscle strain such as overworking at a health club, athletics, heavy work, running, high-performance athletics such as tennis, fencing, pole-vaulting, or sitting for hours at a time, and physical trauma or accident.

How is sciatica treated?
Sciatica can be treated by the following methods:

  1. physical therapy
  2. ice pack
  3. elevation
  4. surgery for treatment of a herniated disc
  5. acupuncture
  6. massage
  7. yoga
  8. chiropractic adjustments
  9. pain medications


Many people choose to use drugs or injections to help manage severe pain.  Others have found that meditation, alternative therapies, and change of lifestyle are effective.  Always check with your trusted doctor or health care practitioner before engaging in a physical therapy or exercise program for sciatic. However, the following exercises might be used to treat back pain or sciatica.

Sciatica Back Pain Exercises

Yoga as been more successful than most other alternative therapies in helping those with back pain.  According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, entitled, “Yoga for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Trial 313 adults with chronic or recurrent low back pain were studied.  93 (60%) patients offered yoga attended at least 3 of the first 6 sessions and at least 3 other sessions. The yoga group had better back function at 3, 6, and 12 months than the usual care group.  Researchers concluded that “Offering a 12-week yoga program to adults with chronic or recurrent low back pain led to greater improvements in back function than did usual care.”

Yoga Class SitIn a similar study also published by the Annals of Internal Medicine, 101 adults with low back pain were randomly assigned to one of three groups. One group attended yoga classes and lessons; the second engaged in aerobics, weight training, and stretching; the third group read a self-help book about back pain.  After 12 weeks, those who took yoga could better perform daily activities requiring the back than those in the other two groups.  After 26 weeks, those who took yoga had less pain and better back function, and used fewer pain relievers than those in the other two groups.

In a study by L.M. Fishman entitled, “Yoga for Osteoporosis – A Pilot Study,” published in the 2009, Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation, yoga practitioners working with 19 osteoporosis patients with an average age of 68, gained 0.76 and 0.93 points for spine and hips, respectively, on the T-scale when compared with controls (P =.01). Five patients with osteopenia were reclassified as normal; 2 patients with osteoporosis are now osteopenic. There were no injuries. Fishman concluded that yoga appears to be an effective way to build bone mineral density after menopause and that the study supported the hypothesis that practicing yoga for as little as 8 to 10 minutes daily will raise T-scale ranking in older patients.

More research is needed to determine whether these alternative therapies are helpful for sciatica pain.  Check with your trusted doctor or health care provider before started a new regimen.

L.M. Fishman,  “Yoga for Osteoporosis – A Pilot Study,” Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation, Vol. 25, No. 3, pp. 244–250, 2009

Helen E. Tilbrook, BSc, MSc; Helen Cox, and others, “Yoga for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Trial” Annals of Internal Medicine, 1 November 2011, Vol 155, No. 9


Jean E. DartThis article is written by Jean Voice Dart,  M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University.
  Jean is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.”  She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance.  The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3  nonprofit health and wellness education organization.  For more information about  the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at

Disclaimer: The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a charitable, independent registered nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and does not endorse any particular products or practices. We exist as an educational organization dedicated to providing free access to health education resources, products and services. Claims and statements herein are for informational purposes only and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The statements about organizations, practitioners, methods of treatment, and products listed on this website are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information is intended for educational purposes only. The MBHA strongly recommends that you seek out your trusted medical doctor or practitioner for diagnosis and treatment of any existing health condition.

What Causes Leg Pain? How to Prevent and Treat Leg Pain

20 Top Causes of Leg Pain

What causes leg pain? How can it be prevented? Here are the 20 top causes of leg pain.

What causes leg pain? How can it be prevented and treated? There are many reasons for leg pain. Some are more serious than others. It’s best to see your doctor as soon as possible if you are experiencing pain and/or swelling in the legs. Leg pain can be a symptom of a blood clot which if not treated immediately can cause stroke or heart failure.

Here are the most common causes of leg pain.

  1. Osteoporosis
    Osteoporosis is a condition of the bones where they are thin and subject to increased risk for fracture. Muscle and bone pain is a well-documented symptom of severely deficient vitamin D.   Vitamin D and calcium are important bone builders and are recommended supplements for treatment and prevention of osteoporosis.   Leg cramps that occur at night are often a signal that your calcium, magnesium, and/or potassium blood levels have dropped to low levels. If low calcium, magnesium or potassium levels continue over long periods of time, this may lead to excessive bone loss and osteoporosis.


  1. Bone FractureFractures
    A fracture usually results from traumatic injury to bones causing the bone tissues or bony cartilage to be disrupted or broken. There are different types of fractures including simple, compound, incomplete and complete. Simple fractures (“closed fractures”) are sometimes not obvious and not seen by the eye, as the skin has not been injured. Fractures can cause leg pain. Compound fractures (“open fractures”) cause a tearing or rupturing of the skin and are more prone to infection.  Fractures can cause leg pain.  Treatment is immobilization to gain realignment of the bone.


  1. Shin splints
    Shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome) refers to the pain that results from stress on the tissues that connect muscles to the shin bone (tibia). They also may come from the small bone of the lower leg and ankle, (the fibula). The most common cause of shin splints is stressful activities that constantly pound on the legs and feet.  It is a common complaint among basketball players, tennis players and runners.  Physicians usually recommend that people with shin splints take an extended period of rest to let that area heal.
  2. Strain
    A strain (also known as “pulled muscle”) is an injury to a muscle or tendon in which the muscle fibers tear as a result of overstretching.   A tendon is a fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones.  Strains often occur in the lower back and in the hamstring muscle in the back of your thigh. Mild strains can be treated at home by resting the  effected area, but you should see a doctor if you can’t walk more than a few steps without significant pain,  can’t move the affected joint, or have numbness in any part of the injured area.  Strain is generally treated by applying cold pack, elevating, compressing the area, and rest.
  3. High Ankle SprainSprain
    A sprain is an injury to a ligament caused by tearing of the fibers of the ligament. The ligament can have a partial tear, or it can be completely torn apart. Sprains most often occur in the ankle, knee and wrist.  For most sprains home treatment is effective. Elevate the area, rest, apply cold pack, compress the area with elastic wrap or sleeve.  See a physician or trusted health-care professional if pain is more severe or not subsiding.
  4. Internal bleeding
    Internal bleeding is bleeding occurring inside the body. It can be a serious medical emergency depending on where it occurs (e.g. brain, stomach, lungs), and can potentially cause death and cardiac arrest if proper medical treatment is not received immediately.  Internal bleeding (also called internal hemorrhage) is a loss of blood that occurs from the vascular system into a body cavity or space. It can result in pain, swelling, dizziness, muscle weakness, blood in urine, stool, or vomit, or noticeable bruising
  5. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
    Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) happens when there is a narrowing of the blood vessels outside the heart. The cause of PAD is atherosclerosis.  Atherosclerosis is caused by a build up of plaque (made up of fat and cholesterol) on the walls of the arteries.  The arteries supply blood to the arms and legs.
  6. Deep Vein ThrombosisDeep vein thrombosis (DVT)
    A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in a vein that is deep inside the body.  Most deep vein clots occur in the lower leg or thigh. If the vein swells, the condition is called thrombophlebitis.  DVT can be very serious and lead to heart attack or stroke or a serious problem in the lung, called a pulmonary embolism.  Treatment includes medicines to break up and prevent blood clots, relieve inflammation and swelling.  Sitting for long periods of time can increase the risk of blood clots. Elevating the area and applying moist heat can be helpful.  Always take plenty of breaks, stretch, and drink plenty of liquids.
  7. Shingles
    Shingles can be a cause of leg pain. Shingles is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus.  This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Symptoms include pain and red blisters on the skin that appear on one side of the body.   Symptoms usually begin with muscle aches and pain. The pain can be a severe shooting pain, or burning or tingling, electrical sensation. Blisters usually go away after 14 days but the pain of shingles can last for weeks, months and even years.
  8. Alcoholism
    Alcoholism can lead to a condition known as alcoholic polyneuropathy (also known as “alcohol leg“).  This is a neurological disorder in which multiple peripheral nerves throughout the body malfunction at the same time. It causes the degeneration in neurons of both the sensory and motor systems.   People with alcoholic polyneuropathy experience pain and motor weakness usually beginning first in the feet, legs  and hands and then moving inwardly toward the center of the body.  Treatment is abstaining from alcohol, nutritional supplements, and pain management.
  9. Diabetes
    Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases in which a person has high blood sugar, either because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or because the cells in the body do not respond to the insulin that is produced.  People with diabetes can experience diabetic neuropathy.  The most common symptoms of diabetic neuropathy are numbness, tingling and pain in the legs or feet, and also a risk of skin damage. Treatment of diabetes involves keeping the blood sugar levels normal, usually with diet, exercise, and appropriate medications (insulin).
  10. SciaticaSiatica
    Sciatica (sciatic neuritis, sciatic neuralgia, or lumbar radiculopathy) is a set of symptoms including pain caused by general compression or irritation of one of five spinal nerve roots of each sciatic nerve or to the left or right or both sciatic nerves. Symptoms include lower back pain, buttock pain, and pain, numbness or weakness in various parts of the leg and foot. Other symptoms include a “pins and needles” sensation, or tingling and difficulty moving or controlling the leg. Typically, symptoms only manifest on one side of the body. The pain may radiate below the knee.   Treatment varies depending on the cause of the problem (pregnancy, herniated disc, tumor, etc.). Spinal manipulation, surgery, physical therapy, and pain management are typical treatments.
  11. Peripheral neuropathy
    Peripheral neuropathy is a result of nerve damage.  It often causes weakness, tingling, numbness and pain, usually beginning in your hands and feet but also in the legs and other parts of the body.  Peripheral neuropathy distorts and sometimes interrupts messages between the brain and the rest of the body.   Pain and other symptoms often appear symmetrically, for example, in both feet followed by a gradual progression up both legs. Next, the fingers, hands, and arms may become affected, and symptoms can progress into the center of the body.   Treatment includes exercise programs and physical therapy, eating a balanced diet, taking vitamin supplements, and limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption.
  12. Cancer
    Cancer can be a cause of leg pain. Cancer is caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body. Cancer cells are called “malignant” cells. Cancer expands locally by invasion and systemically by metastasis.  Traditional treatments include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy.  Alternative treatments are becoming more popular.  Particular dietary considerations and lifestyle changes have been shown to be effective in cancer prevention.
  13. ArthritisArthritis
    Arthritis can be a common cause of leg pain.  Arthritis is inflammation of joints due to infectious, metabolic, or constitutional causes.
    Arthritis leg pain generally is associated with specific joints (e.g., knees or hips).  When cartilage around a joint wears down, a person may feel pain, stiffness, and experience swelling at the joint. Arthritic joints may also be warm and have limited movement.  Treatment for arthritis pain can include pain treatment, exercise, resting the joint, elevating the effected body part, change in lifestyle, and nutritional or diet changes.
  14. Myalgia
    Myalgia isn’t a disease but is a symptom of many diseases and disorders. The most common causes are the overuse or over-stretching of a muscle or group of muscles.  Myalgia has also been referred to as muscular rheumatism.  Leg pain which is caused by muscle pain can be generally classified as myalgia. Treatments vary depending upon the cause of the problem, but can include pain treatment, exercise, resting the joint, constrictive wrap, cold packs, elevating the effected body part, change in lifestyle, and nutritional or diet changes.
  15. Muscle cramps
    Leg pain can be caused by a muscle cramp in the leg. A muscle cramp is an involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscle that does not relax. Cramps can be prevented by having adequate nutrition and hydration, exercising safely (warming up), and maintaining flexibility t factors.  Cramps can be stopped by stretching the muscle.  A cramp can last a few minutes or several hours. Cramps of the legs and feet, are common.  A cramp of the calf is very common and known as a “charley horse.”
  16. Dehydration
    Dehydration can be a cause of leg weakness, pain, and cramping.  When a person is dehydrated it means that the body does not have as much water and fluids as it should.  The severity of the dehydration (mild, moderate, or severe) is determined by how much of the body’s fluid is lost or not replenished. When it is severe, dehydration is a life-threatening emergency and a person could become unconcious and risk death, heart failure or stroke.  Hydration is important in pain management.
  17. HamstringHamstring injury
    A hamstring injury is a common injury to the leg  and common cause of leg pain. It is caused by the straining of the hamstring (also known as a “pulled hamstring”).  This injury is defined as an excessive stretch or tear of muscle fibers and related tissues of the hamstring muscles — the group of three muscles that run along the back of the thigh, and is common among dancers, runners, and soccer, basketball, football, or tennis players.  It occurs with activities that involve running with excessive stopping and starting.  Surgery may be needed to repair a torn muscle but generally homecare treatment is advised, including rest, elevation, cold packs, and pain treatment.
  18. Trauma
    Trauma to the leg can be the cause of leg pain. Trauma can be a serious injury or shock to the body, as from violence or an accident. Most leg injuries in children and teenagers occur during sports or play. The risk for injury is higher in sports, such as football, wrestling,  snowboarding, in-line skating, soccer, biking, skiing,  and skateboarding. Knees, ankles and legs are often injured.  Elderly adults with osteoporosis (thinning bones) are more at risk for fractures.  Treatment for trauma to the leg varies depending on the injury and may include surgery.

If you are experiencing leg pain and unsure of the cause, see your doctor or trusted health care provider to determine the cause of your discomfort and to seek treatment.