Americans are in an endless grappling match with various aches and pains. Some are the insidious symptoms of greater disease—multiple sclerosis, cancer, fibromyalgia, etc.—while others are more localized, and generally the results of aging, degeneration, injury, or overuse.
Today we’re going to discuss one of the most common pain complaints: the lower back.
According to the American Chiropractic Society, over 30 million Americans are experiencing low-back pain at any given time. The Global Burden of Disease 2010 report classified low-back pain as the top cause of disability worldwide. It’s one of the most common reasons for a visit to the doctor, and high on the list of reasons for missed work. A staggering $50 billion is spent on back pain each year—and that’s just in the United States.
Why is back pain so prevalent?
Well, for one thing, your back is one of the most complex structures in your body. Your spine, disks, and support bones, ligaments, muscles, and joints all work together to allow you to move your body freely and smoothly. But all it takes is for one of these components to be misaligned, strained, or injured to affect the health of your back. Over time, a small tweak can turn into a major pain problem.
All manner of lifestyle and genetic influences come into play, too. Stress, obesity, and bad posture can all lead to lower back pain. Inflammatory conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia can cause it as well, as can various diseases of the internal organs. Accumulated injuries from sports, motor vehicle accidents, and other activities can all wreck your back, too. The worst part is that although exercise can sometimes help with your back issues, being in pain makes you not want to move, leading to more pain, and so on and so on—a vicious cycle. With so many contributing factors and potential root causes, it’s no wonder that back issues are slow and difficult to treat.
The usual suspects
Chiropractic care is often recommended for low-back pain sufferers, but it seems there are just as many patients who state it’s made their back pain worse as there are those who swear by it. This article goes into great detail about some of the controversial issues around chiropractic therapy. Doctors often recommend that back pain sufferers take over-the-counter NSAID pain relievers, and in really bad cases, they prescribe opioid medications. The pharmaceutical painkiller route is a slippery one for a couple of reasons—most of these medications carry with them unwanted side effects, and in the case of opioids, they’re highly addictive. For extreme cases, there’s always surgery, but with all the costs and complications that come with it, who really wants to go under the knife?
Where does CBD fit in?
Not too long ago we posted this longer piece about chronic pain, which is worth a read if you’d like a more comprehensive look at all-over pain problems. But can CBD be effective specifically for lower back pain? The answer is that if CBD is proven to have analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects (uh, it is!), then yes, it’s likely to attack the pain in your back.
To be more “granular” here: In 2014, a study that focused specifically on treating degenerative disc disease (a major cause of aging-related low-back pain) with CBD found that it can help to reduce spinal damage. This study was done on rats, but the scientists used them to model human intervertebral disc degeneration. The subjects were divided into three subsets, and each was given a different concentration of CBD—30, 60, or 120nmol. MRI scans were done to closely monitor the injuries and progress.
Within two days, the rats that were given the highest concentration of CBD showed signs of improvement, and continued to heal over the 15-day course of the study. The lower-concentration sets did not experience the same benefits. According to the researchers: “Considering that cannabidiol presents an extremely safe profile and is currently being used clinically, these results suggest that this compound could be useful in the treatment of intervertebral disc degeneration.”
If you’re going to treat your low-back pain with CBD, definitely go with a full-spectrum preparation that contains not only CBD, but other cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids that come from the cannabis plant. To quote a 2008 pain study from prominent neurologist and cannabis medicine researcher Ethan Russo: “Cannabis terpenoids also display numerous attributes that may be germane to pain treatment.”
When it comes to CBD for back pain, it’s important to understand that unlike heavy painkillers, CBD doesn’t just provide immediate relief—generally, it builds up in your system over time and has a more cumulative effect when taken regularly for pain management. Start with a small dose and work your way up from there. And be patient! It could take a couple of weeks or even a month before you get the full pain-relieving effects.
We’re referring to CBD taken orally here, but there are also topical preparations like patches and balms that you can apply directly to painful areas. Best practice might be to use both—a topical preparation for localized pain flare-ups, and a tincture or capsule taken regularly so you can get the full systemic benefits over time.
There are some other, more preventative things you can do for low-back pain before it becomes a serious problem, too. Some keystone habits for low-back care include keeping a healthy diet and weight, avoiding prolonged inactivity, understanding and maintaining good posture, wearing proper, well-fitted shoes, sleeping on a firm, quality mattress, and giving up smoking.
We won’t hide the fact that where CBD can truly help, we want to get people off of the Big Pharma medicine train. When it comes to pain management, and specifically pains related to the low back, CBD can be a handy, safe, inexpensive yet viable option in helping to bring great relief.
If you’re interested in learning more or trying CBD, we recommend reading “What to Look for in a CBD Product” next.