6 Herbs for Natural Pain Relief

man with neck pain
Paul Bradbury/Caiaimage/Getty Images

If you're living with pain, adding herbs to your regimen may help to ease your discomfort (especially when combined with regular exercise, diet, and the practice of relaxation techniques).

At the root of many pain-causing conditions such as arthritis, back pain, or tendonitis is inflammation, a natural immune response to infection or injury. Not only known to generate pain, inflammation—if it becomes chronic—is a risk factor for chronic diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Here's a look at six herbs often used for natural pain relief:

1) White Willow Bark

Containing salicin, an aspirin-like compound, white willow bark has long been used as a natural remedy for inflammation and pain. It was found to be as effective as conventional medicine in lessening pain among people with mild to fairly severe knee and hip problems in a 2008 study.

White willow bark may also alleviate acute back pain, joint pain, and osteoarthritis. However, the bark may cause stomach upset, affect kidney function, prolong bleeding time, and increase the risk of bleeding, just like aspirin. Also, it shouldn't be used by children.

2) Boswellia

Sourced from a resin found in the bark of frankincense trees, boswellia has been shown to thwart chemical reactions involved in inflammation. Practitioners of ayurveda have long used boswellia to treat arthritis; the herb may also benefit people with inflammatory bowel disease.

3) Devil's Claw

Traditionally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, the South African herb devil's claw may also soothe pain resulting from osteoarthritis, tendonitis, and back and neck troubles.

In a 2007 study of 259 people with rheumatic conditions, researchers found that 60 percent of study members either reduced or stopped their pain medication after eight weeks of taking devil's claw.

The herb also appeared to improve the participants' quality of life.

4) Bromelain

A type of enzyme extracted from pineapple stems, bromelain reduces levels of prostaglandins, which are hormones that induce inflammation. Bromelain may benefit people with arthritis and conditions associated with musculoskeletal tension (such as TMJ syndrome), as well as those suffering trauma-related inflammation. What's more, the enzyme may promote healing in muscles and connective tissues.

5) Turmeric

An ayurvedic spice known to tame arthritis pain, the curry spice turmeric contains an antioxidant compound called curcumin. In an animal-based study published in 2007, scientists discovered that curcumin can overpower pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines. The compound may also help decrease pain associated with autoimmune disorders and tendonitis.

6) Ginger

While sipping ginger tea can help relieve cold-related congestion, supplementing with ginger may help to ease pain. Research indicates that ginger may calm arthritis pain, possibly by lowering your prostaglandin levels.

One 2005 study even suggests that ginger could reduce pain and inflammation more effectively than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as aspirin).

The Takeaway

Although scientific support for the claim that any herb can treat pain is limited, adding certain herbs may make living with chronic pain more bearable for some people, especially if it is combined with other lifestyle changes, such as meditation, deep breathing, an anti-inflammatory diet, and exercise.

If you are considering using herbs, it's important to talk with your health care provider to avoid any adverse reactions. For example, white willow bark, turmeric, and ginger contain natural blood-thinning compounds, so people taking many common medications and supplements and those about to undergo surgery should be particularly cautious.

Sources:

Beer AM, Wegener T. "Willow bark extract (Salicis cortex) for gonarthrosis and coxarthrosis - Results of a cohort study with a control group." Phytomedicine 2008.

Grzanna R, Lindmark L, Frondoza CG. "Ginger--an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions." Journal of Medicinal Food 2005 8(2):125-32.

Reyes-Gordillo K, Segovia J, Shibayama M, Vergara P, Moreno MG, Muriel P. "Curcumin protects against acute liver damage in the rat by inhibiting NF-kappaB, proinflammatory cytokines production and oxidative stress." Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 2007 1770(6):989-96.

Warnock M, McBean D, Suter A, Tan J, Whittaker P. "Effectiveness and safety of Devil's Claw tablets in patients with general rheumatic disorders." Phtyotherapy Research 2007 21(12):1228-33.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

Continue Reading