Pain can be debilitating. It can interfere with your ability to do work, sleep an enjoy life. It can aggravate health conditions and can even lead to depression. To seek relief from pain, most of us rely on pain medications. However, these medications come with a list of side effects, drug interactions, and even the risk of addiction.
Natural pain killers are much safer and healthier alternatives. There are several herbs, spices, plant-based medications, and oils that can help in treating pain. In this article, you’ll learn about the various alternative methods to relieve pain.
Cloves are known to provide relief from the pain associated with headache, toothache, and arthritic inflammation. Eugenol, the active ingredient in clove, is a natural painkiller and is also used in many over the counter medications. Eugenol also has anti-inflammatory properties, which helps reduce irritation and swelling in the affected area.
According to a 2015 study published in The British Journal of oral and maxillofacial surgery, eugenol is more effective in alleviating pain, inflammation, and infection as compared to chlorhexidine gel (1). Apply a little bit of clove oil on your gums can help ease toothache. You can also improve stomach ache by adding a few drops of clove oil in water and drinking it.
Ginger has been used to relieve pain for thousands of years. It contains anti-inflammatory compounds that function like the COX-2 inhibitors. These compounds are highly beneficial for people with arthritis. According to a study from Denmark, ginger extracts were as effective as ibuprofen in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or the hip (2).
Another study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, when volunteers took two grams of ginger for at least five days, it helped them to reduce muscle pain caused by prolonged running and resistance exercise. The study also showed that ginger could accelerate recovery of maximum strength after resistance exercise and reduce the inflammatory response to activity (3). Add raw ginger to your food, tea, or smoothies. You can also take ginger supplements.
Turmeric is commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine. It contains curcumin which is known for its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. During a study, 367 primary knee osteoarthritis patients were given either 1,200 mg ibuprofen or 1,500 mg turmeric extracts per day for four weeks. The results showed that turmeric extracts were as effective as ibuprofen in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis (4).
You can buy turmeric as a fresh root in specialty stores or as a dried powder in most grocery stores. You can add it to smoothies or purees. You can also make a turmeric drink with turmeric powder, lemon juice, and warm water.
4. Willow bark
People used willow bark for its pain-relieving properties since the time of Hippocrates; when they were advised to chew on its bark for relieving pain. It contains a substance called salicin, which acts like aspirin. It is useful for relieving headaches, muscle pain, menstrual cramps, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, and ankylosing spondylitis.
Recent studies have shown that the salicylates, polyphenols, and flavonoids in willow bark play a prominent role in its therapeutic actions. Though it has some adverse effects, they are minimal as compared to that of anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin (5). It is available as capsules and distilled tincture. Some health food stores also sell willow bark tea.
Capsaicin is the substance in peppers that gives them their hot taste. It stimulates the release of a chemical that helps transmit pain signals from sensory nerve fibers to the brain called substance P.
When substance P becomes depleted, and the nerve fibers in that area transmit fewer pain signals. Studies have shown that capsaicin patches can provide effective pain relief for patients with neuropathic pain (6). Capsaicin is available as topical creams and patches. The cream can be used to treat headaches. Patches can be used to treat postherpetic neuralgia and diabetic neuropathy.
Feverfew is a medicinal plant that is used for the treatment of migraines, stomach aches, toothaches, insect bites, fevers, and menstrual and infertility problems. It contains sesquiterpene lactones including parthenolide, flavonoid glycosides, and pinenes, which provide it many pharmacologic properties (7).
Feverfew is available in fresh, freeze-dried or dried forms. You can take it in the form of a capsule, tablet, or liquid extract. Though side effects are rare, taking feverfew supplements can cause abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting in some people. Check with your doctor before taking feverfew supplements.
Arnica comes from the perennial plant Arnica Montana. This homeopathic cure has been used for hundreds of years. While the herb itself is considered to be toxic, creams, gels and ointments made from arnica can be used for aches and pains, arthritis, inflammation and bruising.
According to a study from Switzerland, when 26 men and 53 women with osteoarthritis of the knee applied arnica gel twice a day for six weeks, they felt a significant reduction in pain and stiffness (8). It also helps in lowering pain and inflammation following carpal tunnel syndrome surgery (9).
The lavender essential oil has antiseptic, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory properties. In addition to treating anxiety and insomnia, it is also helpful in providing relief from headaches, sprains, sores, and toothaches.
According to a 2015 study, the lavender essential oil is as effective as the drug tramadol in pain relief. Its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties demonstrate their significant therapeutic potential (10). During a 2012 study published in European Neurology, when patients with migraine headaches inhaled lavender essential oil for 15 minutes, it helped reduce migraine severity (11).
Peppermint essential oil can be used to treat tension headaches, migraine headaches, and muscle pain. It contains menthol, which has a cooling effect. It also has analgesic, antispasmodic, and anti-inflammatory properties. According to a 2010 study, peppermint oil is a safe and effective treatment for migraine headaches (12).
Rosemary oil is used as a mild pain reliever in folk medicine. It helps to relax sore muscles, and reduce inflammation. According to a study by Wonkwang University, South Korea, when patients with shoulder pain were given aromatherapy acupressure using lavender, rosemary, and peppermint oil, there was a marked improvement in pain (13).
A 2013 study showed that rosemary oil could also be used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms in people undergoing treatment for opium abuse (14).
11. Eucalyptus oil
Eucalyptus oil is used in balms, inhalers, massage blends, and dental hygiene products due to its soothing and anti-bacterial properties. A 2013 research studied the effects of eucalyptus oil on pain and inflammation after knee surgery. The researchers found that inhalation of eucalyptus oil helps in decreasing pain and blood pressure following total knee replacement (15).
12. Epsom salt
We have used Epsom salt for years to reduce pain and lower stress. The magnesium sulfate in Epsom salt helps the muscles to relax and soothe your mind. Soaking in an Epsom salt bath provides relief from sprains and muscle cramps.
Acupuncture, a part of the Traditional Chinese Medicine, can be used to treat back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis conditions. It works by applying needles, pressure, and heat to specific points on the body.
According to acupuncture, invigorating these points releases or redirects the body’s energy. According to a study published in The Journal of Pain, acupuncture is useful for the treatment of chronic headaches, musculoskeletal, and osteoarthritis pain (16).
Rolfing is a technique of manipulating the muscle and fascia to help the body return to structural balance in movement and gravity. While rolfing may seem similar to deep muscle massage, it follows a different ideology. Rolfing practitioners massage the muscles and fascia of the whole body and not just the area where you are feeling pain. The aim is to fix the body’s posture so that there is no lingering pain.
15. Graston technique
Graston technique is a technique for pain relief invented by David Graston, an athlete with an injured knee. This technique involves using a stainless steel instrument and massage to stretch and relax muscle tissue. It helps increase blood flow and restores movement in injured tissue.
People with strained and pulled muscles, ligaments, and tendons can benefit from this technique. You can also try this technique if you have chronic pain and inflammation.
Yoga combines breathing control, meditation and stretching and muscle strengthening exercises, which help in keeping you mentally and physically fit. It can help people with chronic pain conditions like lower back pain, migraine, and fibromyalgia.
According to a study published in Pain Relief and Management, yoga is effective in treating chronic lower back pain (17). Yoga also helps to reduce stress and anxiety, which is useful in pain relief.
Many people use medication to treat pain. These pain relievers are harmful to the body in the long term and can lead to serious side effects like increased risk of heart attacks, digestive issues, and impaired kidney function. Natural and herbal remedies provide pain relief and also help to keep the body healthy due to their antioxidant effects.