Here Are the Lower Back Pain Remedies That Actually Work, According to Science

If you have chronic lower back pain—meaning a nagging ache has persisted for 12 weeks or more—you may be tempted to throw a bunch of Dr. Google remedies into a bag, shake it up, and start drawing at random. Before you go that unscientific—but understandably desperate—route, know this: The World Health Organization (WHO) released guidelines in 2023 that aim to demystify the dizzying array of options that promise to put an end to the hurt.

We asked doctors for their back pain tips, and for insight into some of the WHO’s top recs. So, let’s forget the remedy roulette and stick with the science, shall we?

What to do for lower back pain

1. Exercise

While there’s nothing wrong with bed rotting, it’s not a great solution for a bad back. Based on nearly 70 different studies of more than 4,000 people in 20 different countries, the WHO concluded that exercise, including structured fitness programs that are prescribed or planned by health care practitioners, really works.

Erich Anderer, MD, chief of neurosurgery at NYU Langone Hospital–Brooklyn, tells SELF that it’s the number one prescription he sends many of his patients home with. “Even though it kind of feels counterintuitive, actually doing some light exercise and stretching through an acute episode of back pain will sometimes activate those muscles and get you to a point where you can kind of push through and then work on core strength to prevent a recurrence,” he says. Studies suggest that just about anything is helpful—yoga, Pilates, walking, swimming…the list goes on. For an added benefit, you can throw in some core-strengthening moves.

Jared Kaplan, founder of Arrive Wellness, previously told SELF that he suggests movements like the dead bug, clamshell, and glute bridge to strengthen muscles and lessen pain. (You can find instructions on how to do these moves in our hip abductor series.)

2. Physical therapy

Are you still looking for another way to relieve your back pain? Head to the physical therapist’s office, Wesley Bronson, MD, a board-certified spine surgeon for the Mount Sinai Health System, tells SELF. “The mainstay of non-operative treatment, for me, generally begins with physical therapy, which works on restrengthening the core in the back and improving the muscular envelope that supports your spine,” he says.

Physical therapists understand how bodies work and can tailor movements and treatments specifically for you. The WHO notes that some types of PT are better than others, specifically spinal manipulation therapy or massage.

3. Self care

The WHO recommends that doctors educate people about the importance of prioritizing self care, which Dr. Anderer says is less about getting manicures and facials and more about eating nourishing foods, meditating, and partaking in (you guessed it) physical activities like yoga or Pilates.

Many of these tactics are believed to work because they lower stress, which can help you side-step the impact of back pain. For example, a study in Nature found that people who experienced even mild stress were 1.5 times more likely to have back pain than those who did not. As for those who experienced severe stress? Their chances jumped up 2.8 times.

4. CBT or a similar type of therapy

It’s probably no surprise that the road to feeling relaxed and at peace often begins with a therapist. Studies have shown that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—which focuses on identifying less-than-helpful thoughts and behaviors and taking specific steps to address them—in particular can help with managing chronic lower back pain.

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