Updated September 29, 2017
If you are 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, and tendonitis is inflammation, a natural immune response to infection or injury. In addition to causing 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 an aspirin-like compound known as salicin, 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, like aspirin, the bark may cause stomach upset, affect kidney function, prolong bleeding time, and increase the risk of bleeding. Also, it shouldn’t be used by children.
Sourced from a resin found in the bark of the frankincense tree, boswellia has been shown to thwart chemical reactions involved in inflammation. Practitioners of ayurveda have long used boswellia to treat arthritis.
3) Devil’s Claw
Traditionally used for rheumatoid arthritis, the South African herb devil’s claw may also soothe pain resulting from osteoarthritis, tendonitis, and back and neck troubles, according to proponents.
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.
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.
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.
While sipping ginger tea can help relieve cold-related congestion, supplementing with ginger may help to ease the 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).
Although scientific support for the claim that any herb can treat pain is limited, adding certain herbs may help some people who are living with chronic pain, 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 healthcare 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.