Pain can be extremely difficult to deal with on a daily basis. Most people assume the most effective way to deal with pain is to turn to prescription drugs, or over-the-counter pain medications such as Advil and Tylenol. However, prescription pain medications can be extremely harsh on your system, and hard on your budget. They can often even come with risk of addiction. Also, using these pharmaceuticals to treat pain in children can be a difficult balancing act and sometimes dangerous.
The good news is that finding safe, natural and effective pain relief is easy! People have been treating their pain with plant derived traditional methods since the origins of modern medicine, and these alternatives are still around today. Some modern-day pharmaceuticals are even derived from these herbal alternatives. Most importantly, these alternative medicines are better understood and backed up by solid scientific studies which prove their effectiveness.
1. Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens)
Originally from Southern Africa, Devil’s Claw was used throughout the continent and more recently throughout Europe as a natural pain reliever. Named for tiny claws that cover its fruit, Devil’s Claw has been found to have many therapeutic characteristics to treat issues like inflammation, pain relief, skin ailments, liver and kidney problems as well as a treatment for malaria and fever.
One study found it provided equal pain relief for patients suffering from osteoarthritis, when compared to a leading prescription drug in Europe. There is also research demonstrating its effectiveness in treating chronic back and neck pain. Devil’s Claw root is found either fresh or dried, and in a variety of formats such as liquid, capsules, and powders.
2. Wintergreen Essential Oil (Gaultheria procumbens)
Oil of wintergreen is already used in many familiar products, such as muscle rubs and cold vapors. It contains up to 99% methyl salicylate, which is one of the primary ingredients used in Aspirin. This active ingredient means it is just as effective as a pain reliever as some over-the-counter painkillers. In small doses, it can help combat a variety of pain, including muscle pain, headaches, infection, and inflammation. It can also be used in a steambath for relief of cold and flu symptoms.
Because wintergreen essential oil is so potent, it is not recommended for internal consumption. Instead, it is recommended for use topically, just like you would use a traditional muscle ointment. Perhaps one of the simplest applications with wintergreen oil is to open the bottle and inhale the vapors.
3. Capsaicin (Capsicum)
Although it may seem strange, capsicum which is the spicy compound associated with hot peppers, actually is a powerful form of pain reliever. Used topically in creams and rubs, it significantly reduces specific kinds of pain. This includes chronic back pain, neuropathy, headaches, and pain associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It can also be used to treat mouth sores which stem from chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
When first applied, it may tingle or increase the initial pain, but very quickly it will start to reduce the pain as it stimulates receptors called C-fibers. Quickly after, it will decrease the pain signals between the area and the brain. In one study, patients who were suffering from neuropathic pain were given a single 60-minute application of topical capsaicin and their pain was reduced for upwards of 12 weeks.
4. White Willow Bark (Salix alba)
White Willow Bark is an excellent alternative to Aspirin when treating minor aches and pains throughout the body. It contains compounds called salicin and salicylic acid, which are what over-the-counter painkillers have been derived from.
Just like Aspirin it should be used in moderation (especially in children) as it can cause gastrointestinal ulcers, but when used in moderation it is both effective and safe. Because it reduces swelling and increases blood flow it has traditionally been used to treat menstrual cramps, joint pain, and arthritis.
5. Cannabidiol (CBD)
The ECS is controlled by endocannabinoids which are responsible for keeping our most critical biological functions in balance such as sleep, appetite, the immune system, pain, inflammation and more. When the body gets out of balance and moves into a state of stress, endocannabinoids go to work to fix the problem.
But when it comes to pain management, one of the primary uses for CBD oil, deaths from drug overdoses and drug poisoning continue to rise. Deaths from opioid analgesics – one of the most universally prescribed pain management drugs – increased from 4,030 in 1999 to 15,597 in 2009 and 16,651 in 2010. In 2010, 60 percent of all drug overdose deaths (22,134) involved pharmaceutical drugs, and opioid analgesics showed up in about 3 of every 4 of those pharmaceutical overdose deaths. That confirms the predominant role that research has shown opioid analgesics to play in drug-related mortality. Opioids are nasty, brutal drugs with side effects nearly as bad as the conditions they’re taken for, and although deaths from opiods are common, they’re still one of the most turned to bandaids in modern medicine.
CBD in proper dosages gives nearly the same pain reduction compared to opioid prescription drugs such as morphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone are examples, and when combined with these drugs, allows you to use far less of the actual prescription, thus reducing the toxic load on your liver and kidneys.
2013 study found CBD to reduce nausea and vomiting, suppress seizure activity, combat anxiety, depression and even psychosis disorders. It was also found to have anti-inflammatory properties, anti-tumoral properties, and antioxidant properties that could fight neurodegenerative disorders.
It’s shown promise in treating a range of ailments from Crohn’s disease, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis, to Dravet Syndrome and Fibromyalgia.
Possibly one of the hottest trends in healthy foods and supplements, turmeric is an ancient medicine used to treat pain and inflammation. Both in Indian and Chinese cultures it has been used to treat joint pain and headaches.
These days it is being used more widely to treat other diseases which cause inflammation such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and osteoarthritis. Easily incorporated in your daily diet by adding organic turmeric powder to your dishes or using turmeric supplements, it has been shown in small clinical trials to reduce joint pain and swelling more effectively than a pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory drug.
Cloves, found in middle eastern food and in holiday baking too, are also a potent pain reliever. It can be used both internally and through topical applications. One of its most well-known applications is using clove essential oil to treat toothaches and used by dentists to rub on gums post dental work. It can also be used to treat headaches, arthritic inflammation and other muscle and joint pains. Besides its pain relief functions, it contains a substance called eugenol, which inhibits infections and fungal growth.