Natural Remedies For Pain

  • Yasmin Alame Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD), Pharmacy and Industrial Pharmacy, Università degli Studi di Milano
  • Jasmine Abdy Bachelor of Science - BSc, Medical Microbiology with a Year in Industry, University of Bristol, UK

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Nature provides us with several options we could take advantage of to find relief when our body aches, before proceeding with pain medications. Here is an overview of some types of pain you can experience and related natural solutions, which can include either natural and herbal products or physical approaches to deal with it.

Depending on the pain you are experiencing there are solutions to find relief. If you are struggling with musculoskeletal pain, you can rely on natural products and supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, Turmeric, Willow Bark, Devil’s Claw, and Thunder God Vine, or physical exercise. In case of headache and migraine, you could include magnesium, vitamin B2, melatonin and caffeine in controlled doses, and exercises, and it is also important to have good quality sleep and stay hydrated. Neuropathic pain can be treated with topical application of capsaicin and mind-body practices like yoga and meditation, which can also be useful, alongside herbal teas (thyme and camomile) and heat therapy, to treat pain caused by menstrual cramps. Whatever the conditions we want to treat are, it is important to never self-diagnose and choose your therapy and consult a qualified healthcare professional instead.

Introduction

Pain is defined as an unpleasant feeling and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage and whose level can be subjective.1 Pain is usually successfully treated with painkillers and anti-inflammatories if the source is linked to an inflammation process, however, it is commonly one of the main conditions also managed with herbal and natural remedies by people, to find a solution that does not resort to conventional medicine, but uses an alternative way instead. Unfortunately, the mechanisms involved in the healing process are not fully clear and therefore it is not always recognised as a valid option by the conventional system and healthcare professionals, other than possibly causing interactions and impacting the efficacy of the medicines primarily used for the therapy. Alternative medicine could possibly be integrated by patients and into healthcare professionals' practices for pain relief treatment to complement the conventional approaches.2

It could also make everyone feel more in control of their health, knowing that they can rely on natural products and methods such as adding some herbal substances to their diet or including more yoga and meditation practices in their daily routine, without needing to deal with over the counter or prescription medicines. Not only when there are acute or chronic conditions, but this knowledge can then also be applied in preventive practices to enhance general wellness. 

Types of pain and their natural remedies

Musculoskeletal pain

Musculoskeletal pain tends to be associated with inflammation, and it can affect bones, joints, ligaments and muscles. It is usually suggested to follow an anti-inflammatory approach with:

Physical therapy and exercise

Physical Therapy can bring relief when targeted correctly and accompanied by the application of ice on the area to decrease the inflammatory process. The NHS posted a list of advice and exercises you can do depending on the area affected by the pain.

Nutritional approach

Despite the absence of strong scientific evidence in favour of the nutritional approach efficacy with supplements and an anti-inflammatory diet, this method has been used for a very long time, still having some benefits over inflammation involving the musculoskeletal system.

Some of the nutritional supplements involved in an anti-inflammatory diet used in case of musculoskeletal pain are:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods such as fatty fish, nuts, seeds and plant oils. Some studies showed a modest benefit provided by omega-3 fatty acids to patients with rheumatoid arthritis. A systematic review was conducted on several randomized controlled trials that involved 1252 subjects affected by rheumatoid arthritis of which 717 patients took omega-3 fatty acids for at least 3 months, while the rest were in the control group. The data demonstrated the reduction in the leukotriene B4 levels involved in inflammatory processes, as well as a significant improvement in markers specifically related to rheumatoid arthritis.3

  • Turmeric

Turmeric is another dietary supplement used to treat inflammation, along with its extract Curcumin, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory activity. However, also in this case, there are not enough scientific results to support this theory. Ten different clinical studies that involved 1287 patients affected by knee osteoarthritis, showed an improvement in pain caused by the disease, thanks to the assumption of turmeric in comparison to the patients that were on placebo. Moreover, none of the studies showed significant adverse events related to turmeric therapy, showing its generally safe profile. Despite the positive result, optimal dosing, frequency and formulation are not known about these trials conducted.4

  • Willow Bark

Willow Bark, also known as Salix alba, is a plant with anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that have been demonstrated by not many trials to have moderate benefits for lower back pain in a short-term treatment.5

  • Devil’s claw

Devil’s claw is originally from Africa and it has sometimes been used to treat arthritis, myalgia and tendonitis. Some data show that this herb has moderate benefits for lower back pain in a short-term treatment.5 Moreover, it can potentially also have a positive impact on those with osteoarthritis affecting the spine, hips and knee, thanks to the inhibition of COX2 (enzymes involved in inflammatory processes) leading to a decrease in symptoms related to osteoarthritis pain, it is not fully recommended due to lack of long-term safety information.6 

  • Thunder God Vine

Thunder god vine, originally from the Asian countries China, Japan and Korea, has been used for centuries in non-conventional therapies to treat inflammatory conditions. Three studies conducted on patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) had the subjects divided into a group on thunder god vine and a control group on placebo. The first trial enrolled 61 patients with RA who were randomly assigned to either Thunder god vine cream or placebo cream for 6 weeks, and those who were receiving the active ingredient were positively influenced. The second study had 35 patients randomly assigned to either 180mg/day of Thunder god vine or a placebo, and those on the Thunder god vine significantly improved when considering symptoms such as swollen and tender joints, pain relief and physical function. The third study lasted for 24 weeks and involved 121 patients who had had RA for 6 months or longer and were assigned to either Thunder god vine 180 mg/day or 200 mg/day of sulfasalazine (medication used to treat RA), and more patients on thunder god vine than the conventional medication achieved the expected 20% improvement set for the primary outcome. However, thunder god vine has also demonstrated a high occurrence of adverse events and therefore withdrawal from the clinical trials.7

Headaches and migraines

Headache and migraine can be painful to the point that you cannot focus on things you are working on or complete tasks you had set for the day. There are natural remedies that can be considered before relying on conventional methods or being used alongside them. Here are some of the natural remedies and prevention methods for this type of pain:

  • Low-impact physical exercise

Regular low-intensity physical activity, such as yoga, pilates or a long walk in the fresh air, can reduce the impact that headaches and migraines have on you. It is better to avoid high-intensity workouts, as it might cause the worsening of the symptoms instead. The American Migraine Foundation has published a guide of exercises that can bring benefits to those suffering from migraine and you can find it here.

  • Stay hydrated

Dehydration can be one of the causes that trigger headaches, and a good level of fluid intake and hydration can bring relief to people who suffer from headache diseases. To demonstrate this relationship, a study divided the participants with migraine or headaches into a group taking an extra 1,5 L of water every day for 2 weeks, and comparing it to the control group that had a lower daily intake of fluids. The data showed that the subjects who drank more water during the day had lower frequency of headache attacks, shorter events and less use of medicinal interventions.

Another study involved 256 women with migraine, and those who had a higher water intake (about 2 L per day) had lower frequency, duration and intensity of the events.8 

  • Nutraceuticals

Food and herbs can also be included in the nutritional diet to support an intervention to find relief from headaches or to prevent these painful events.

Some studies showed potential in the use of coriander, curcumin, citron, and chamomile, but also feverfew and butternut obtained positive but limited results in favour of a treatment for headaches diseases.9 It is important to include certain nutraceuticals in the daily diet to prevent or mitigate the symptoms related to headache, such as magnesium, which can inhibit the excitatory neurotransmission by blocking pain receptors; Riboflavin, as known as vitamin B2, which can be used to prevent migraine attacks and have a positive impact on reducing frequency, and duration of acute events; Melatonin, whose anti-migraine properties have been supported by studies conducted on subjects that took melatonin to prevent the acute events and can be compared to medicines used in the prophylaxis therapy, and for which 400-500 mg/day are recommended; Feverfew, has limited data that show its efficacy in the treatment of headache conditions, which is possibly linked to the inhibition of the prostaglandins (substances involved in the pain processes) production, as well as and reduction of muscle spasms in the blood vessels.10,11,12

Caffeine seems to have a dual influence in the treatment of mild headaches or migraines. Despite the specific mechanism that brings relief is not fully known, it has been shown that a moderate amount of daily caffeine can have a positive impact on migraine. On the other hand, a sudden interruption of caffeine intake, when used to consuming caffeine, could trigger headaches instead.13

  • Sleep

Good quality sleep is paramount for a healthy lifestyle and rested mind, therefore a lack of it can lead to problems such as headaches and migraine, often linked to sleep disorders and deprivation. About 50-75 % of people suffering from chronic pain and forms of headaches experience trouble sleeping, showing the strong relationship between the two. Headache diseases can cause issues with falling asleep and be the cause of it, however, based on studies conducted, lack of sleep seems to be the headache trigger most of the time, showing who is the main character in this relationship.

Neuropathic pain

Neuropathic pain (NP) is triggered by conditions affecting the somatosensory nervous system and communicating the discomfort to the brain through the nerves. Capsaicin, the spicy active ingredient in chilli, seems to have a good influence on this type of pain when applied topically (creams, patches) by using its analgesic properties, and preparation with a high concentration of capsaicin (10-20%) has shown better results in providing benefit to the patients, comparing to lower-concentration capsaicin formulations that have failed to demonstrate a significant efficacy.14 Studies have also demonstrated the positive effect that yoga and meditation, generally speaking, mind-body therapies, have on neuropathic pain management. All studies conducted on NP patients had a better improvement of the symptoms in those who practised yoga, for instance, compared to the control group who did not. Meditation is also helpful for modulating the perception of pain.15

Menstrual pain

Most of the women suffer from dysmenorrhea, which is the type of pain commonly known as associated with period cramps. Instead of taking painkillers monthly as soon as you feel an incipit of pain, try some natural remedies for it. One of the options is yoga practice specifically for menstrual pain, stretching the abdomen and bringing a sense of relaxation and improved flexibility. Moreover, applying a source of heat (hot water bags or towels, for instance) locally on the lower abdomen can bring relief, and despite the small sample sizes used in trials conducted on women with dysmenorrhea, data showed the positive effect that the application of heat as compared to the control groups that did not follow the same practice.16 

The consumption of herbal teas can also be beneficial to treat menstrual pain. Thyme tea was administered to young girls affected by primary dysmenorrhea, and the study demonstrated that drinking this type of herbal tea decreased the risk of suffering from primary dysmenorrhea by 63.2% among the subjects included in the trial.17

Chamomile has also been shown to have relieving properties in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) which also includes physical symptoms like abdominal pain. Chamomile is not only effective in reducing menstrual cramps thanks to the flavonoids contained in the flowers, which have an antispasmodic activity, but also helps with mitigating stress and anxiety often caused by PMS.18

Safety and precautions

When taking supplements, and nutraceuticals to treat pain or any other condition, it is important to mention that being natural does not mean they are harmless to your health. These substances could indeed interact with medications you take for other conditions by either increasing their effect leading to toxicity, or by inhibiting it causing a lack of efficacy. Therefore, it is paramount to check any new administration with the health care professionals (HCPs), to make sure they will not cause any damage. Moreover, always verify that you do not have any allergy or intolerance to these natural products and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any doubts.

Summary

Pain can be treated with natural methods that include nutraceuticals and mind-body techniques, but not only. Lifestyle modifications are important to pay attention to daily, such as controlling nutrition also by including herbs and supplements that could be beneficial to either prevent or bring relief in case of pain. Sleep and rest are also paramount, as it was shown by studies that lack of sleep could increase our pain sensitivity. Moreover, we can consider mind-body approaches such as yoga, physical exercise, and meditation. These activities enhance relaxation and pain tolerance by calming the nervous system and relaxing the muscles. Remember not to self-diagnose and always ask your doctor or pharmacist to verify if a natural approach could be a good option for you to integrate into your therapy, and check if you are allergic to any of the nutraceuticals or if they interact with medications and supplements you are already on.

References

  1. Raja SN, Carr DB, Cohen M, Finnerup NB, Flor H, Gibson S, et al. The Revised IASP definition of pain: concepts, challenges, and compromises. Pain [Internet]. 2020 Sep 1 [cited 2023 Nov 8];161(9):1976–82. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7680716/
  2. Jahromi B, Pirvulescu I, Candido KD, Knezevic NN. Herbal medicine for pain management: efficacy and drug interactions. Pharmaceutics [Internet]. 2021 Feb 11 [cited 2023 Nov 8];13(2):251. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7918078/
  3. Gioxari A, Kaliora AC, Marantidou F, Panagiotakos DP. Intake of ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition. 2018 Jan;45:114-124.e4. 
  4. Paultre K, Cade W, Hernandez D, Reynolds J, Greif D, Best TM. Therapeutic effects of turmeric or curcumin extract on pain and function for individuals with knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med [Internet]. 2021 Jan 13 [cited 2023 Nov 8];7(1):e000935. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7812094/
  5. Oltean H, Robbins C, van Tulder MW, Berman BM, Bombardier C, Gagnier JJ. Herbal medicine for low-back pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Dec 23;2014(12):CD004504. 
  6. Gregory PJ, Sperry M, Wilson AF. Dietary supplements for osteoarthritis. afp [Internet]. 2008 Jan 15 [cited 2023 Nov 8];77(2):177–84. Available from: https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2008/0115/p177.html
  7. Macfarlane GJ, El-Metwally A, De Silva V, Ernst E, Dowds GL, Moots RJ, et al. Evidence for the efficacy of complementary and alternative medicines in the management of rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review. Rheumatology [Internet]. 2011 Sep 1 [cited 2023 Nov 8];50(9):1672–83. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/rheumatology/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/rheumatology/ker119
  8. Arca KN, Halker Singh RB. Dehydration and headache. Curr Pain Headache Rep [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2023 Nov 8];25(8):56. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8280611/
  9. Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Drummond PD. Herbal treatments for migraine: A systematic review of randomised‐controlled studies. Phytotherapy Research [Internet]. 2020 Oct [cited 2023 Nov 8];34(10):2493–517. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ptr.6701
  10. Yablon LA, Mauskop A. Magnesium in headache. In: Vink R, Nechifor M, editors. Magnesium in the Central Nervous System [Internet]. Adelaide (AU): University of Adelaide Press; 2011 [cited 2023 Nov 8]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507271/

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Yasmin Alame

Master’s degree in Pharmacy, University of Milan, Italy

Yasmin is a pharmacist with experience in both pharmacy settings and the pharmaceutical industry.

As a Medical Writer at Klarity, Yasmin utilises her knowledge and passion for medical education and communication to write reader-friendly articles on a wide range of topics.

my.klarity.health presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
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