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Are Certain Spices and Herbs Natural Muscle Relaxers for Back Pain?

By Tracey Allison Planinz ; Updated August 14, 2017

The causes of back pain include poor work conditions, repetitive moving and lifting, stress, injury and even bad posture. It is important to consult your medical doctor if you have chronic or severe back pain. In addition, certain herbs and spices help to relax muscles, ease pain and provide temporary relief. Always check with your health-care provider before trying herbs for medicinal purposes. Natural therapies should be used in conjunction with, and not in place of, conventional care, and you should talk to a doctor before using any of them.


Bromelain is a naturally occurring enzyme found in fresh pineapple. It is used by the body to break down proteins. It is naturally anti-microbial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Herbalists use bromelain extract to treat digestive disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis and musculoskeletal injuries. According to a 2010 monograph published in the Alternative Medicine Review, research shows bromelain inhibits the body's inflammatory response. It promotes healing following trauma or injury, speeds up healing from bruises and hematomas, and reduces swelling, pain and tenderness from acute injuries. Bromelain is easily obtained by eating fresh pineapple. It may also be found over-the-counter in capsule or tablet form.


Turmeric is an herb used in Indian dishes and other Eastern cuisines. It is the spice that gives curry its golden color. It has been used in ayurvedic medicine to treat bacterial infections, diabetes, cancer, digestive disorders as well as joint and muscle pain. It is naturally anti-bacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It has been studied extensively in the West as an adjunct treatment for both cancer and arthritis. In a study published in "Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology" in 2007, researchers found that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, effectively inhibits chemicals responsible for inflammation in the body. In this way, turmeric acts much like over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatories. It can be found in liquid extract or capsule form.


Valerian is a flowering herb with a long-standing history in herbal medicine. It was used traditionally to treat insomnia, anxiety, high blood pressure, pain and pre-menstrual syndrome. It is naturally analgesic and slightly sedative. In one 1994 Belgian study, researchers determined that valerian's natural therapeutic effects were most likely due to its ability to break down the amino acid gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. GABA acts as a neurotransmitter that induces relaxation in the body. In essence, valerian helps the body relax naturally. Valerian is commonly found in liquid extract or capsule form. Because of its sedative effects, do not take valerian with other pain relievers or muscle relaxants. Check with your doctor before using this herb, especially if you are taking another prescription medication.


Catnip is not just for cats. It is a flowering annual in the mint family native to Europe and North America. It is naturally antispasmodic and considered soothing to the nervous system by herbalists. It is used to treat colic, indigestion and general aches and pains. Scientific studies of catnip as of 2011 focused on the use of its volatile oils as insect repellent. In animals, ingesting catnip appears to be stimulating, but in humans it produces the opposite effect. It is typically taken as an herbal tea two or three times per day. As this herb has not yet been evaluated for therapeutic use, check with your health care provider before trying catnip for back pain.


Cayenne pepper is a culinary spice with several purported health benefits. It is commonly used in herbal formulas to enhance the action of other herbs. It increases heat in the body and herbalists believe that it strengthens the heart without raising blood pressure. The active ingredient in cayenne, capsaicin, is naturally carminative, or soothing, and antispasmodic. Topically, it is used in creams and lotions to ease muscle pain and promote healing. Results of a study published in "Phototherapy Research" in 2010 suggest that capsaicin cream is useful in patients with chronic soft tissue pain and is also effective for patients with chronic back pain. Capsicum or capsaicin cream can be found over-the-counter. Check with your health care provider for proper use of this herb.

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