While modern medicine has made great strides in providing pain relief, drugs aren’t the only way to deal with painful conditions. From natural supplements to lifestyle changes and therapies, there are many natural ways to treat pain. Whether you’re looking for a way to avoid pharmaceuticals or just want to know all your options, these natural pain treatments have been clinically proven to be effective.
While exercise promotes overall health by lowering blood pressure, burning calories and easing stress, it can be particularly useful for reducing joint pain. According to Harvard Health Publishing, on top of osteoarthritis, posture, old injuries, repetitive or forceful movements and aging, joint pain can also be caused by a lack of physical activity. While it may seem counterintuitive, avoiding all movement that causes discomfort can actually weaken muscles and increase joint pain as well as causing other problems.
While you certainly don’t need to run a marathon to combat joint pain (and shouldn’t, unless you’re well prepared), the right stretches and exercises can strengthen muscles and restore flexibility over time. In addition to the long-term benefits, exercise also releases endorphins that provide short-term pain relief.
Walking, tai-chi, pool exercises and other moderate activities are often good choices for people getting into (or back into) regular exercise, although if you have restrictions on your mobility or other health concerns, you may want to speak with a doctor first.
Aspirin and Willow Bark
You might not think of aspirin as a natural pain relief cure, but it’s actually derived from a natural remedy that’s been used to treat all sorts of pain for more than 2,000 years: willow bark. While aspirin itself is synthetic, it’s derived from salicin, an active compound in willow bark.
Aspirin can be used to treat headaches, fevers, swelling, rheumatoid arthritis and rheumatic fever, and there’s even evidence that it can reduce blood clots. Because willow bark contains a similar active ingredient, it can be helpful in many of the same situations, particularly lower back pain. However, willow bark can be more variable in its dosages and may be rougher on the stomach than aspirin — in fact, aspirin was created specifically to offer the benefits of willow bark while lessening its drawbacks. Look for possible drug interactions before using willow bark, and like aspirin avoid taking it regularly without advice from a doctor. If you’re already regularly taking either, you should also avoid suddenly stopping willow bark or aspirin.
Turmeric is a spice used in many South Asian cuisines that comes from a ground root. More importantly, it also contains many antioxidants and has been clinically shown to have significant anti-inflammatory properties due to the curcumin it contains. It can be useful for treating Type 2 diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and even cancer.
However, while turmeric tastes great in sauces and other dishes, the turmeric spice you buy at the grocery store only contains around 3 percent curcumin, you may want to take it in supplement form instead to make it easier to take. The choice is a tradeoff, though, as experts such as Mayo Clinic dietician Anya Guy recommend using the powdered form as part of a meal over supplements for quality turmeric.
A daily dose of 200 to 1,000 milligrams of curcumins is usually okay, although you should always check with your doctor before taking any supplements to make sure they won’t interact poorly with your specific health situation. This is particularly true if you plan on taking turmeric to treat a serious condition like cancer or diabetes. The best turmeric supplements contain few additives or fillers, such as gluten, dairy, or soy, while those made with phytosome technology may be up to 29 times as absorbent by the stomach. It’s better to buy turmeric as needed rather than stocking up since exposure to air can decrease its potency.
From hot baths to ice packs, applying heat or cold to painful areas can ease all kinds of pain, especially in the back, neck and joints. While neither can fully cure the source of your pain, they can reduce the pain itself and even speed along your recovery. They’re particularly effective when used alongside other pain treatments.
You can use a cold compress, tub of ice water or even a bag of frozen vegetables to chill an affected area. Blood vessels constrict when exposed to cold, which reduces swelling and in turn pain. Cold can also slow down nerve impulses, which interrupt the transmission of pain. Because many injuries cause inflammation, such as sprains and even bee stings, applying cold is often a good first response.
Meanwhile, heat relaxes the muscles, which can reduce pain, and increases blood flow, which speeds up healing. A heating pad, hot water bottle, electric heating pad, hot bath or even sauna can be useful ways to use heat to treat an injury.
Acupuncture came to the United States from China in the 1970s, and while it was initially met with skepticism from the medical community, it has since been shown in clinical trials to have a real, observable ability to reduce pain. While it was traditionally thought to open blocked energy channels, scientists today believe it works by activating neurotransmitters and suppressing chemicals that cause pain. It’s now recommended for people who experience chronic pain, especially those who can’t take pain medications.
The National Institutes of Health began studying how acupuncture compared pain in the 1990s. Early tests showed it reduced pain by roughly 50 percent. Later studies comparing acupuncture to other forms of pain relief showed acupuncture to reduce pain by 33 percent six months after treatments, while some conventional treatments only offered a 22 percent reduction.