For anyone having to endure back pain daily, my sympathy is with you because I know the struggle is REAL. While my own experience with back pain is far from disabling nor has it needed any kind of pain management regimen, it is one thing to learn about it and another thing to live with it. The positive news is that there are several things you can do on your own to address it and hopefully find relief without the use of prescription drugs.
It may take a little deep diving and some trial and error to see what works best for you (as with most things)! When it comes to do-it-yourself pain management, it makes sense to educate yourself and make informed decisions. Let's discuss what options are out there and get your back on track!
Types of Back Pain Cream
Back pain creams are typically easy to access depending on the type you are looking for. The over-the-counter creams can provide relief and use varying active ingredients such as essential oils (EOs) or cannabidiol (CBD). Other types of pain cream used (not just for the back) may be drug-based such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) topical cream. It’s important to note that creams can provide relief from where they are locally applied.
Topical Analgesic Back Pain Creams
Diclofenac gel/plasters can be purchased at pharmacies and focus on decreasing inflammation, therefore treating the pain caused by it. People have used Diclofenac for other conditions such as arthritis, gout, ankylosing spondylitis, sprains/strains, and of course back pain. Typically they can be applied twice daily depending on the strength.
In a study regarding the efficacy of painkillers applied on the skin, consistent use for 6-12 weeks resulted in decreasing pain levels by at least half for most of the individuals. Results took about a week to take effect (for those that did experience positive results).
Other topical analgesic creams that can also be found OTC are lidocaine 5% and capsaicin. Both have shown efficient painkilling abilities along with lower risks for side effects. Both of these analgesics also come in the form of patches. Be aware of any drug interactions with your current prescriptions or side effects it may have. For more accurate information, it’s best to speak to a pharmacist.
Essential Oil Creams
Essential oils can be beneficial in reducing pain levels for muscle strains and generally have a high safety profile. A lot of creams (and oils) are now available on the market that have EOs in them, as data shows pain relief is more noticeable when EOs are used in tandem with massage, for example.
A systemic review on the use of EOs demonstrated that “topical EOs are effective in reducing pain and stiffness in chronic MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders), and that they contribute well to conventional therapies… we suggest that topical EO therapy should be applied repeatedly to reach the most effective pain-relieving effect of EOs.”
My Experience With EO Cream
Like most people, I harbor a lot of tension in my upper back. I don’t tolerate this tension very well, because once I notice its presence it continues to linger in the back of my mind, and rarely does it go away on its own accord. Luckily, I had a pain cream suggested by my friend, that utilizes a combination of EOs. Every time I used this cream, it would give a cooling sensation and pain levels decreased dramatically. It was like VICKS but for pain relief! Some of the ingredients for this cream included camphor, wintergreen, peppermint, blue tansy, chamomile, and ylang-ylang. The cold feeling was extremely soothing - and so if this is the type of physical effect you go for, try something with wintergreen or peppermint!
CBD Back Pain Cream
Cannabidiol products are now widely available. CBD’s mechanism of action lies in its ability to target neuropathy and inflammation, which is typically at the root of most back pain. While CBD and its numerous positive effects are still being studied, many people have reported experiencing its benefits.
CBD comes from cannabis sativa of the hemp variety - which lacks the element that induces a “high”. So, don’t worry! You won’t feel any psychoactive side effects or get the munchies from using a CBD cream for back pain! You may, however, feel more relaxed, less anxious, and maybe even have better sleep!
As far as strength goes, CBD 1000mg back pain cream may provide the relief you’re looking for when incorporated into your pain management regimen. Like other creams, you’ll want to apply it consistently a couple of times a day as it may take some time to start feeling a difference (depending on the strength and other active ingredients in your cream).
What Might Be Causing Your Back Pain
As you may have seen in other articles on this site (or elsewhere), the causes of back pain can be a combination of things. Unless you experienced specific physical trauma or injury that can be pinpointed to an event, it may be difficult to understand what the origin may be.
Poor Body Mechanics
Poor body mechanics may be at the root of your discomfort. This could mean bad posture that has become habitual thus reinforcing muscle strain. Standing or sitting hunched over also known as forward head posture has become common because of a sedentary lifestyle. All your muscles along your entire spine are put under tension to keep the spine straight - putting you at risk for pain anywhere on your back. This type of prolonged time under tension may be hard to notice because it becomes second nature and subtle - but eventually, it will lead to knotting, trigger points, and pain.
The sensation of muscle stiffness is subjective and manifests differently for everyone. Chronic stiffness in particular might not be painful, but can feel like tingling, numbness or even swelling. One muscle, in particular, prone to pain and trigger points is the Quadratus Lumborum (QL). This muscle is responsible for the movement and stabilization of the spine along with hip elevation. Any injury or long-term strain on the QL muscle will eventually develop into pain.
Overuse or Incorrect Exercise Form
Back pain can easily develop from certain exercises being done incorrectly. A healthy protocol with exercise would involve warm up/cool down along with proper recovery should any injury occur. Furthermore, increased time under tension (or too much of it) increases the risk of injury as well. Any tension in the lower extremities can also translate into back pain. Tension in the QL or gluteus medius developed during running can turn into lower back pain. Another example of a common exercise that causes back pain is stiff leg deadlifts. Check out our resource here for how to do it without pain.
Back Pain and Your Lifestyle
After reading about the above creams, I’d advise you to try other methods if you don’t find the level of relief you seek. This may be obvious advice, as back pain can be extremely limiting - it’s no fun being put out of commission. Creams or OTC medications may not be a one-stop shop for all things back pain.
There are other holistic interventions available and lifestyle changes you may want to consider. Some useful tips include:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Try out a low or non-inflammatory diet
- Incorporate a stretching routine 2-3 times a week
- Strengthen your back muscles!
- Be aware of your posture when sitting and standing
- Get a massage (Also try a CBD Massage or teach yourself how to do a massage anywhere!)
- See a chiropractor or other medical professional if necessary
Back Pain Cream Conclusion
Regardless of the type of cream you choose and the active ingredient it uses, topical back pain creams are great because unlike popping a pill for pain, it’s noninvasive. You are also likely bypassing the possibility of experiencing negative side effects that may take place compared to other routes of administration. Check out this CBD + Arnica salve below for the ultimate pain relief!
Looking for more options for pain relief and muscle recovery? Read more on muscle scraping to see if it's right for you!
 Derry, S., Wiffen, P.J., Kalso, E.A., Bell, R.F., Aldington, D., Phillips, T., Gaskell, H., Moore, R.A. Topical analgesics for acute and chronic pain in adults - an overview of Cochrane Reviews. Cochrane Database Syst Rev., 2017
 Peck, J., Urits, I., Peoples, S., Foster, L., Malla, A., Berger, A.A., Cornette, E.M., Kassem, H., Herman, J., Kaye, A.D., Viswanath, O., A comprehensive review of over the counter treatment for chronic low back pain. Pain and Therapy, 2020.
 Bako, E., Fehervari, P., Garami, A., Dembrovszky, F., Gunther, E.E., Hegyi, P., Csupor, D., Boszormenyi, A. Efficacy of topical essential oils in musculoskeletal disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pharmaceuticals, 2023.
 Khare, R. Understanding CBD (Cannabidiol) for back pain. Spine-health, 2019.
 Diclofenac. www.nhs.uk/medicines./diclofenac, 2021.