Natural Remedies for… Pain?

Herbs, supplements, and relaxation techniques can truly help.

Posted Aug 11, 2016

Carolyn Ross/Shutterstock
Source: Carolyn Ross/Shutterstock

When we come down with a cold, we take echinacea, vitamin C, or zinc. When we are having trouble sleeping, we take melatonin or valerian. If we are troubled by anxiety or panic, we might try meditation or yoga. But when we have a backache or a flareup of arthritis, most of us reach for over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, or we take something stronger prescribed by our doctor. Natural remedies just aren’t the first thing we think of when it comes to pain.

But over-the-counter pain medications aren’t necessarily as benign as they seem; long-term use may cause problems with the heart and kidneys. And prescription painkillers can have significant side effects, not to mention the potential to become addictive.

If you’re one of the 100 million American adults who live with chronic pain, you know that it can be truly distressing. Pain can keep you from working, put a strain on your relationships, and dampen your enjoyment of life. When you’re in pain, you want to do something about it.

The good news is that there are effective natural remedies for pain. Try using these and see if they work for you.

Herbs and Supplements

Arnica Montana. Used in a topical cream or gel, Arnica has been shown to help with osteoarthritis of the knee.

Capsaicin. Also used as topical cream, capsaicin has been shown to be effective for neck pain, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetic neuropathy.

Cod liver oil. Research by Haim Shapiro suggests that omega-3 fatty acids have the potential to help with neuropathic and inflammatory pain. And in a 1996 study by Willy Eriksen, people with musculoskeletal pain got relief by taking cod liver oil. Try taking 1 to 2 teaspoons of cod liver oil daily.

Willow bark extract. Salix alba was shown to be helpful for low back pain in a preparation that contained 240 mg of salicin.

As always, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before taking a new herb or supplement. Some can interact with other medications or cause problems in people with certain health conditions.

Relaxation, Mindfulness, and Acceptance Techniques

You feel familiar twinge in your shoulder and you think, Oh no, there it is again! I’ll never be rid of this. And before you know it, the pain is twice as bad. Does this sound familiar? There’s no doubt that our thoughts and feelings about physical discomfort can worsen our pain.

Muscle tension can be a major contributor to pain. The same anxiety and worry that make us hunch our shoulders or clench our fists can turn up the volume on pain anywhere in the body.

It makes sense, then, that relaxation techniques can be very effective in changing our perception of pain. Research shows that cognitive-behavioral therapy that emphasizes relaxation strategies is effective in reducing lower back pain.

Mindfulness meditation isn’t exactly a relaxation technique, but it has long been established as effective in relieving chronic pain. This might seem surprising at first. Meditation involves paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. Wouldn’t paying attention to pain – and your thoughts and feelings about it – make the pain worse, not better?

Paradoxically, meditation practice helps us cultivate an accepting mindset. When we stop struggling with our pain, it is much less bothersome. In fact, there is an entire therapy (acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT) built around acceptance, and it has been shown to be quite effective for chronic pain. When you practice ACT, you don’t even have to meditate; you simply learn to relate to your thoughts differently.

You may find that with herbs, supplements, relaxation, and acceptance, you can reduce your use of conventional pain medications – perhaps even drop them entirely – and at the same time get better relief from your pain. Give it a try and see.