It’s estimated that over 150 million of us in the US live with chronic pain and take prescription and over-the-counter painkillers, both of which provide only temporary relief, have limited efficacy and come with side effects including potential addiction. This leaves us looking for safe and effective analgesics to manage pain – so in this blog, I’m going to cover some evidence-based alternative and complementary solutions that can provide natural pain relief. It’s important to note that while you can find relief from these options, looking into the root cause of the pain is the key to long-term wellness. And this may require a dramatic shift away from pro-inflammatory habits (affecting your diet, sleep, exercise and mind) which I’ll cover in another blog.
Acupressure – a traditional Chinese medicine technique dating back more than 2,000 years – is still popular today as an inexpensive and non-medical intervention without side effects. This stimulating practice sends signals to the body to activate the self-healing mechanism and relax the muscles. When done consistently, it can reduce pain over the long term and lessen the recurrence of related symptoms. This recent study found that cohorts with chronic lower back pain who performed self-administered acupressure experienced improvement in pain and fatigue symptoms.
If the idea of self-administering acupressure seems daunting to you, check out this primer on the common acupressure points and how to correctly apply the pressure for sustained benefits.
Acupuncture is not only one of the oldest Chinese medicine treatments but is also one of the most widely researched and supported complementary modalities with thousands of published studies on pain. This incredible study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine
showed that acupuncture was more effective and faster in relieving pain with less adverse side effects than intravenous morphine. Here are some guidelines on licensure for acupuncturists and Oriental Medicine practitioners so you are in the know before getting needled. Also check out my review of Dr. Bonnie McLean’s podcast on acupuncture and pain.
Anthocyanins from Cherries
Anthocyanins are phytochemicals that have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This recent study found that consumption of cherries by athletes helped attenuate pain and decrease blood concentration of biomarkers linked to skeletal muscle degradation. So add cherries to your shopping list – if you cannot find fresh, grab frozen cherries or unsweetened cherry juice. Here’s one to try:
Sub-optimal levels of vitamin B12 have been associated with pain from neuropathy. This study reviews the use of B-12 along with other supplements and lifestyle changes to alleviate painful peripheral neuropathy symptoms. Researchers also noted a prevalence of B12 deficiency on diabetic patients on metformin therapy (diabetes drug). So it’s important to have B12 monitoried to ensure optimal levels are maintained.
Look for methylcobalamin which is the active form of B12 (not cyanocobalamin) – here is one to try:
Did you know that both regular and decaf coffee have opiate-like properties and contain a compound called cafestrol which probably acts as a painkiller? These opioid properties could be due to a complex interplay amongst multiple compounds that are present in coffee. What a delicious way to manage pain and you can do it without the buzz!
If you are looking for decaf coffee, make sure you purchase brands that eliminate caffeine using the Swiss water method – this ensures that chemicals like methylene chloride are not present in your daily cup-a-joe. Here are some brands to try:
Ginger is not only tasty but has amazing anti-inflammatory effects as well. According to this study in the Journal of Pain, ginger supplementation has been shown to reduce muscle pain after strenuous exercise. It’s also been shown to relieve menstrual pain in women and to be as effective as ibuprofen.
I love fresh ginger grated into salad dressings, cooking sauces and morning shakes. I buy a chunk of organic ginger and also brew tea: put a small chunk in water – upon boiling, let it simmer for an hour and it’s ready to enjoy. You can add some lemon and honey to taste. If you want to take it as a supplement, I recommend a fermented ginger form as it is more bioavailable:
Pain is an inflammatory response and your body’s way of telling you of injury or damage. Your body’s normal response would be to produce systemic enzymes to counteract the inflammation so you can heal. And it is magnesium that mediates the activities of these crucial enzymes to manage inflammation. This study showed that magnesium treatment alleviated pain from fibromyalgia, headaches and acute migraine attacks.
Topical magnesium oil applied to sore parts on the body can provide relief. You will see a white residue once the oil is dry – that is the magnesium salt which can be rinsed off. Here’s one to try:
And here is a relaxing supplement you can take:
Arnica gel comes from the flowers of the arnica herb and is widely used for inflammation resulting from insect bites, bruising, muscle, and other general pain. This study shows the use of arnica gel on providing pain relief after strenuous exercise.
Here’s one to try:
Turmeric and the active component curcumin has been widely used and researched for many conditions, making “Orange is the New Block for Pain” (pun intended!) There are more than 2,000 published studies referencing the healing power of turmeric and its components. Here are several:
- This meta-analysis reviewed randomized clinical trials of turmeric and curcumin-enriched extracts that provided scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of turmeric in the treatment of arthritic pain.
- This study showed that curcumin extracts were as effective as ibuprofen for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis with fewer gastrointestinal side effects.
- This study showed the role of curcumin and other nutrients like magnesium for chronic pain management in musculoskeletal frailty and aging.
I like this supplement because it contains bioperine which enhances the bioavailability of the turmeric extract:
Or you can try fermented turmeric for easier digestability and absorption:
Stay tuned to Wholistics for more tips and hacks to lead a pain-free life!