“Argh!” If you’ve ever hurt your low back, you’re familiar with that microsecond of awareness that signals something is wrong, followed by a sudden jolt of pain. You know that you’re in for days, weeks or even months of painful back spasms and nagging backaches. After the initial injury, pain can be brought on even by simple tasks such as turning over in bed or getting in or out of the car.

Fortunately, there are natural back pain remedies that really work…

Back pain remedy #1: Walking—on hills. Recent research tells us that walking regularly is as effective as physical therapy, chiropractic care and medication for many types of low-back pain. That’s because walking uses and strengthens muscles in the back and abdomen but doesn’t overwork them. As these muscles are gently worked, circulation improves, tissues repair and spasms relax. Here’s a little secret that will make walking even more effective for low-back pain: If possible, do hill walking. Why is this better? Walking uphill requires you to lift your leg more than flat walking does. In doing this, the muscles along the spine are elongated, stretched and strengthened more effectively than with flat walking. Downhill walking is less helpful than walking uphill, though it does generally help and strengthens thigh muscles. Important: Hill walking does not mean climbing up mountains or steep hills. If you want to try hill walking for back pain, look for rolling hills and choose a route with more up than down if possible. Walk a minimum of 20 minutes per day, four times a week. If this is painful, start with five-minute walks, spread throughout the day, and work up to 20 or more minutes per walk when you are able.

Back pain remedy #2: Ice. Many people think that ice helps only right after you’ve injured your back. This isn’t so. Ice reduces pain and inflammation as long as your back is still hurting. What to do: Keep a gel pack or bag of frozen peas in your freezer. Wrap either in a thin cloth, and apply to your low back for 10 minutes only, several times a day.

Back pain remedy #3: Stretching. Gentle stretching is great for reducing back pain. Breathe deeply and stretch (reach overhead, bend forward and lean from side to side) but only as far as you can without causing pain.

Back pain remedy #4: T-Relief. This ointment, which contains arnica, chamomile and other herbs in homeopathic form, is anti-inflammatory, promotes circulation and reduces pain. Apply a small amount to the painful area twice daily as needed for up to a month. T-Relief is available from naturopathic physicians’ offices and over-the-counter at natural-food stores and pharmacies as well as online.

Back pain remedy #5: White willow bark. This herb, which reduces pain and inflammation, contains salicin, a chemical that is similar to aspirin. I often recommend 400 mg three times daily for low-back pain relief. Like aspirin, white willow can bother the stomach, so take it with a small amount of food. Check with your doctor first if you have a chronic medical condition or take medication (especially a blood thinner, beta-blocker or diuretic).

If you follow these steps for run-of-the-mill back pain, you should feel much better within about a week.