Pain is part of the human experience. You can’t escape it. Sometimes pain is acute like when you bump the “funny bone” on your elbow joint, which is anything but funny. And for the reported 100 million individuals in America who have chronic pain, pain can take the joy out of everyday life.
Most often the first remedies that both individuals and physician reach for are over-the-counter or prescription analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs. While they may help some pain, they’re not useful for all kinds of pain. Besides, taking them can have health consequences, especially if taken regularly.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is hard on the liver. Aspirin can cause stomach bleeding and thin the blood. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, research shows can raise the risk of heart problems and stomach issues. And opioids are addictive, which has led to a national addiction crisis.
It now may be the time to consider natural solutions to pain and healing. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions we’ve gathered to help you get pain relief naturally.
Acute Pain Relief
When you bump your head, stub your toe, or strain a muscle, before grabbing for over-the-counter pain relievers consider these natural remedies.
- Cold Compress – Cold is usually recommended for acute pain. Apply a cold compress to the injury as soon as possible to reduce inflammation and swelling. Blood flow is reduced by cold, and this in turn reduces inflammation. The numbing of inflamed tissue acts as a local anesthetic by slowing the communication between the pain and the brain.
- Cold and Heat – Using cold and heat alternately is recommended for exercise or sports-related injuries.
- Willow Bark – Salicin in willow bark converts to salicylic acid in the body. Aspirin is the synthetic form of salicylic acid. Willow bark has been used in many cultures for thousands of years for pain. In addition to salicin, flavonoids and other plant compounds also contribute to reducing inflammation and pain.
Willow bark is available in a topical ointment, tea, tincture, and pill form. People with allergies to aspirin, gastric ulcers, and those who take a blood thinner and beta-blocker should not use willow bark. As with aspirin, children under 16 years old should not take willow bark because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome.
- Arnica Montana – This homeopathic treatment is suitable for pain, sore muscles, inflammation, and bruising from injuries and surgery. Arnica is a yellow flower similar to a daisy. Its use for healing goes back to at least the 12th century, which is the first written record of its use.
It comes in pellets, which are placed under the tongue. There is also a topical cream or gel. These are the most common ways to take arnica. The pellets and ointments are often used together for maximum benefits and should be used immediately after bruising or injury.
Chronic Pain Relief
The first step to stop chronic pain is to find the cause of it. It may seem that the area where the pain originates is the source for what is triggering the pain. However, that isn’t always the case, especially with chronic pain. For example, back pain can be a symptom of stress. Aches and pains in the body can be related to depression. In other words, pain can signal a health issues that is not easily discernable.
Finding the source of pain is where Ayurveda (tradition Indian medical tradition), naturopathy, homeopathy, and Traditional Chinese Medicine are helpful. They are based on a holistic approach to healing that treats the whole person and not just the symptoms.
So, practitioners of the healing modalities mentioned above will delve into what could be the basis for pain. They tend to dig a little deeper than an allelopathic doctor because they look at the whole body, which can include the mental and emotional health of the patient.
Here are some natural treatments and therapies for chronic pain that pull from a whole-body approach to healing.
- Heat – Heat is good for most chronic pain, such as back pain and arthritis because it increases blood flow and helps muscles to relax. Take a warm bath with Epsom’s salts which are known to relieve soreness and ease the pain in muscles. Also, a heating pad or warm compress can be helpful.
- Cold – Try cold compresses for chronic headaches. Cold should not be used for any nerve disorders or if the person is already cold. Do not use cold directly on the skin.
- Anti-Inflammatory Foods – A diet high in anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is one of the main components of chronic pain. Eat fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, fermented foods, and probiotics. The Cleveland Clinic also suggests restricting dairy products and sugar. They also recommend avoiding red meat or strictly limiting the amount you eat.
Choose whole grain over simple carbohydrates like white flour and rice. Green tea is anti-inflammatory. Blueberries, salmon, dark green leafy vegetables, chia seeds, and walnuts are a few of the foods considered to be highest in compounds that act as anti-inflammatories in the body.
- Herbal Remedies – Herbs have been used for centuries for pain and to reduce inflammation. Research now confirms their ability to help with pain management. For example, turmeric contains the plant compound curcumin which lowers inflammation and pain. Here are some other herbs that are known to reduce pain:
- Valerian Rook
- Eucommia Bark
- Kava Kava
- Boswellia (frankincense)
- Thunder God Vine
- Vitamin D – In a study with people who had low back pain and where there was no source for the cause of the pain, Vitamin D levels were low. Increasing vitamin D in another pain study by the University of Minnesota showed that participants’ musculoskeletal pain was caused by vitamin D deficiency. A Boston University study showed that people with the recommended daily dose of 400 to 800 IUs of vitamin D had less pain than those who didn’t. Ten to fifteen minutes of sunshine a day can boost vitamin D levels in the body.
- Acupuncture – A report in JAMA, Internal Medicine concluded that acupuncture is an effective therapy for chronic pain. It’s essential, however, to choose a qualified and licensed practitioner.
- Exercise – The body’s natural pain reducers, endorphins, are released during exercise. Endorphins work like opiate pain medications that bind to the brain’s opioid receptors to block the perception of pain.
The problem is how do you exercise if your pain is intense. Experts suggest working with a healthcare professional such as a physical therapist, physiatrist, or chiropractor who specializes in pain relief exercises,
- Yoga has been found to be beneficial for pain but not just from the physical aspect. Applying other concepts such as mind and body connection and using meditation, yoga can help heal the cause of pain.
- Tai chi and qigong forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine exercise done regularly can also help with pain. Studies have shown them to be helpful for fibromyalgia and neck pain.
- Water therapy is a gentle way to exercise, and many hydrotherapy treatments can help to reduce pain, such as swimming and soaking in a whirlpool.
- Massage Therapy – Studies show can massage therapy can reduce pain by releasing tight muscles and by releasing endorphins that block pain messaging to the brain.
Sometimes the best and most effective first step to relieving pain isn’t grabbing the medicine bottle. There are many complementary and alternative medical treatments for pain that may be healthier and have better outcomes in the long run.
This information is for educational purposes only. It’s not to diagnose, treat, or recommend any specific therapy or treatment. Always consult your healthcare practitioner before considering any new treatment or stopping medications.
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