Ask the Past: back pain

I hurt my back the other day lifting something I shouldn't have, and I can't get a physio appointment until next week. Are there any remedies I can try in the meantime?

It turns out that what you have is lumbago, and it was obviously a fairly common problem, because I've found quite a few remedies for it. This one, from Enquire Within Upon Everything (1880) might be a good one to keep on hand, because not only is it good for lumbago, it also apparently helps for rheumatism, sprains, bruises, chillblains, and insect bites:

One raw egg well beaten, half a pint of vinegar, one ounce of spirits of turpentine, a quarter of an ounce of spirits of wine, a quarter of an ounce of camphor. These ingredients to be beaten well together, then put in a bottle and shaken for ten minutes, after which, to be corked down tightly to exclude the air. In half an hour it is fit for use. Directions - To be rubbed well in, two, three, or four times a day. For rheumatism in the head, to be rubbed at the back of the neck and behind the ears. This mixture should not be used on broken chillblains.

If your back is really sore, though, and you feel like something topical just isn't strong enough, here's an option from Lady Hackett's Household Guide (1940) that may appeal:

Take 1 pennyworth of spirits of nitre, 1 pennyworth of spirits of camphor, and 1 pennyworth of turpentine; mix together and take 12 or 14 drops in a little tea at bedtime and once during the day.

Lady Hackett also recommends boiled celery on toast as a cure for rheumatism, though, so you'll have to judge for yourself how much you trust her remedies.

Harmsworth's Household Encyclopedia (1922) has quite a bit to say about lumbago. Apparently it "principally affects rheumatic and gouty people", and "predisposed persons should harden themselves by a daily cold bath or sponging, and by not wearing too warm clothes". But if even wandering around town in a t-shirt in the winter doesn't keep you free of back pain, here's what they recommend:

The bowels must be opened by a purge such as two or three grains of calomel, and kept regular by occasional doses of some saline aperient such as Epsom salts, one teaspoonful each morning before breakfast.

I'm sure that will help.

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