If you’re suffering from a toothache, backache, or any other type of pain, your first impulse might be to reach for a pill. Many people rely on medications, but they come with the risk of side effects, drug interactions, and the possibility of becoming habit forming.
You may find the relief you need from a variety of natural painkillers instead.
Many herbs and spices can treat inflammation and other related conditions. These plant-based options fall under a category of medical treatment known as complementary and alternative medicine, which also includes acupuncture, yoga, reiki and other practices. When it comes to pain relief, you may be surprised at what might help you feel better.
People have been using willow bark to ease inflammation (the cause of most aches and pains) for centuries. The chemical salicin, which is similar to the main ingredient in aspirin, is found in the bark of the white willow.
Originally, people chewed the bark itself to relieve pain and fevers. Now willow bark is sold as a dried herb that can be brewed like tea. It also comes as a capsule or liquid supplement. It can be used to treat headache, low back pain, osteoarthritis, and many other conditions.
However, willow bark can cause stomach upset, may slow down your kidneys, and can prolong bleeding time, just like aspirin. It should only be used by adults. It could be poisonous to children, just like aspirin can be poisonous when taken in large quantitates.
If you’re sensitive to aspirin, or if you are taking any over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen) you should avoid willow bark. You should also avoid taking it if you are taking warfarin or other anticoagulant treatments, as salicin could increase the risk of bleeding.
Turmeric is a spice that gives curry, an Indian dish, its yellow color and unique flavor. It contains the compound curcumin, an antioxidant that helps protect the body from free radical molecules that can damage cells and tissue.
Turmeric is used for the treatment of many conditions, including indigestion, ulcers, stomach upset, psoriasis, and even cancer. Some people with osteoarthritis turn to turmeric as a natural pain reliever because it helps relieve inflammation.
Whole cloves are often used to spice up meat and rice dishes. Ground cloves are used in pies and many other foods. As a medicine, cloves can be found in capsule or powder form. Clove oil is also available.
Like other herbal supplements, cloves are used to treat a wide range of conditions. Cloves may help ease nausea and treat colds. They may also help relieve the pain associated with headaches, arthritic inflammation, and toothaches. Cloves can also be used as part of a topical pain reliever. A study indicated that cloves could be used to treat fungal infections but further research is needed.
The active ingredient is eugenol, which is a natural pain reliever and is also used in some over-the-counter pain rubs. Rubbing a tiny amount of clove oil on your gums may temporarily ease toothache pain until you can get to a dentist. But too much undiluted clove oil may actually hurt your gums, so discuss this approach with your dentist before trying it at home.
People with bleeding disorders or who are taking blood-thinning medication should be careful when consuming clove products. Clove oil can increase the risk of abnormal bleeding.
This ancient Chinese medical practice seeks to relieve pain by balancing the body’s natural energy pathways. The flow of energy is known as qi (pronounced CHEE). Acupuncturists place tiny, and very thin needles into your skin. The location of the insertion is related to the source of the pain. But, based on the qi, a needle may be inserted far from the part of the body experiencing pain. Acupuncture may relieve pain by causing the body to release serotonin, a “feel good” chemical that eases pain.
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that acupuncture helped relieve pain associated with osteoarthritis, migraines, and various locations of chronic pain.
Heat and Ice
Among the most common home remedies is applying heat and ice directly to sites of pain. While these may not seem like “surprising” pain relievers, not everyone is clear on exactly when to use ice or heat.
A strained muscle, tendon, or ligament may feel better after applying an ice pack to reduce swelling and inflammation, shortly after it is injured. Interestingly, once the inflammation has disappeared, heat may help reduce the stiffness that comes with strains and sprains.
A cold pack used briefly on the head may also help take away the pain of a headache.
But, if the painful problem is arthritis, moist heat applied to the affected joint will help more than ice. Moist heat packs that can be warmed in the microwave and used many times, making them easy and effective to use. If you get injured, talk with your doctor or pharmacist about how to use heat or ice to help ease the pain.
The natural painkillers described above may only be effective for specific causes of pain. It’s possible that not all of the suggestions on this list will work for you. However, these natural alternatives to prescription or over-the-counter medications may at least give you some decent options to try before you turn to pharmacological solutions.
Remember, pain is the body’s signal that something is wrong. It may be temporary, such as a strained muscle. But pain can also mean you have a serious health problem that needs a professional medical evaluation. Don’t hesitate to seek out a healthcare provider to diagnose the source of your pain, and then discuss some natural options for treating it.