Natural Pain Relief

The non-medical use of prescription painkillers in America is a growing problem affecting the health of millions of Americans and leading to significant increases in overdose deaths. Opioids are highly active, yet around nine million people in the US are prescribed these drugs to alleviate chronic pain. Evidently, no-one should have to live with lasting and/or intense pain, yet it is also vital to experiment with natural methods of pain relief, owing to the many side-effects that painkillers can cause (including addiction, abuse for non-medical purposes, drowsiness, lack of concentration, etc.). If you have been suffering from chronic pain and you would like to try out more treatment options, you may decide to look into these natural yet effective forms of pain relief:

Yoga: In controlled studies, yoga has been shown to reduce migraine-associated pain and chronic lower back pain. In a recent randomized study, scientists showed that migraine patients who took part in yoga practice sessions five days a week for a total of six weeks, showed reduced headache frequency and intensity. This led researchers to conclude that yoga should be incorporated as an adjunct therapy in migraine patients. With respect to lower back pain, another study showed that a 12-week yoga program for adults with recurrent back pain lead to significant improvements in back function.

Massage: Studies have shown that when parents massage children with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, the latter have less anxiety, stress hormone (cortisol) levels, reduced pain and less pain limitations on activities, than children who do not receive massage. Massage is also effective at reducing post-operative pain, lower back pain and migraines. Massage has additionally been used successfully with those suffering from fibromyalgia. In a recent study, fibromyalgia patients receiving a half-hour massage twice a week, were found to have significant improvements on the dolorimeter measure of pain, and to also have less stress, anxiety and depression. Massage recipients reported less stiffness and fatigue, and fewer nights of difficult sleep.

Acupuncture: This ancient science is fast becoming a popular component of mainstream therapy, with research indicating that symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia are significantly reduced through acupuncture. Recent studies have shown that both traditional acupuncture and electroacupuncture (in which tiny electrical currents are sent to the needles) can reduce tenderness. Another large-scale study involving over 304,000 people in Germany showed that just 15 sessions of acupuncture, combined with patients’ usual medical care, reduced pain and stiffness in those with knee osteoarthritis. The positive findings relating to acupuncture have led many private health insurers to embrace this practice.

Essential oils: Many therapeutic-grade essential oils are credited with having an anti-inflammatory, soothing effect, including basil (said to be a muscle relaxant), peppermint (often touted as having anti-inflammatory and pain relieving benefits), wintergreen (often used to soothe neck and carpal tunnel syndrome-related pain), lavender (which has anti-inflammatory effects) and spruce (used by those with arthritis, rheumatism, sciatica and back pain) to relieve symptoms. For muscle pain, marjoram and rosemary are popular choices for muscular cramps and soreness.

Herbal remedies: Some popular herbs used to tackle pain include capsaicin (obtained from hot chili peppers, topical capsaicin depletes a compound that brings the sensation of pain from the peripheral to the central nervous system). Ginger, rich in phytochemicals, is also said to alleviate joint and muscle pain when taken as an extract. An interesting study published in the Journal of Pain by the American Pain Society showed that daily doses of raw or heat-treated ginger effectively soothe muscle pain and discomfort – this includes very strong pain following strenuous exercise. Several studies have also shown that ginger has anti-inflammatory, analgesic properties similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, sans the side-effects of medication (which can include gastrointestinal bleeding).

Yet another powerful herbal remedy is Devil’s claw, introduced to Europe in the early 1900s from South Africa. Several studies have shown that the consumption of Devil’s claw for eight to 12 weeks significantly lessens pain and improves physical functioning in patients with osteoarthritis. One study involving over 120 people with knee and hip osteoarthritis showed that Devil’s claw was as effective at quelling pain as a leading European medication for pain. The American Pain Foundation additionally prescribes ginseng (for fibromyalgia), Kava Kava (for stress headaches), St. John’s Wort (for arthritis) and Valerian root (for muscular pain and spasms).

*** Consult with your doctor if you are considering taking new herbal remedies to determine an appropriate dosage and to ensure compatibility with any current medication you are taking.

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