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Natural Pain Relief

Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed by Mohommed Essop-AdamReviewed on 30.10.2023 | 5 minutes read
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You find yourself suffering pain but hesitant to take the usual painkillers your doctor or pharmacist suggests for whatever reason – perhaps the experience of side effects or fear of addiction, or you're trying to cut down on your regular pain medications. You may wonder what forms of natural, alternative or herbal pain relief are available. Our resident pharmacist will take you through alternative types of pain relief, and they will seek to dispel any myths or misinformation regarding pain medications.

Doctor’s advice

Are natural medicines safer than modern medicines?

This is a common misconception. People interpret the term "natural" as occurring in nature rather than developed in a lab, but it does not follow that it is always safer. Many medicines we use today are derived from naturally occurring active molecules found in nature – aspirin, for example – some molecules are identical. At the same time, some have been modified to be more effective or stable to withstand formulation (the process of turning it into tablets and capsules). Additionally, natural or herbal medicines do not always have the scientific data to back their effectiveness and safety – they are largely unknown in that sense, compared to rigorous tests for medications on the market, and they are not under the same strict regulatory rules.

The benefit may have been handed down through generations in traditional medicine or be a new "wonder product" that has gained popularity. Still, natural and herbal remedies can have side effects, cause harm in some cases, and interfere with your other prescribed medications.

It's best to only use herbal medicines in moderation and for mild self-treatable conditions. Only continue them if you see a clear benefit. Remember to mention to any healthcare practitioner what herbal medicines you take, and check if you're already prescribed medications or have ongoing medical conditions.

Are painkillers addictive?

There are different painkillers: non-opioids, NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and opioids. Opioids such as codeine, tramadol and morphine are strong painkillers that can be physically addictive. This is because your body can rely on them to feel good and stop producing endorphins, the body's feel-good biochemicals. You can also develop a tolerance over time and need more to get the same effect. Opioid medications are usually only prescribed by a doctor to treat moderate to severe pain not controlled by other painkillers. These should be used only in the short term to minimise the risk of addiction.

When prescribed for chronic pain, it's essential to have regular medication reviews to ensure its appropriate use. Other painkillers such as paracetamol and NSAIDs (like ibuprofen) are not addictive in a physiological sense, i.e. your body is not dependent on them. Still, they may be addictive psychologically, i.e. you feel you need them to start your day. Any painkillers must be only used to treat pain and for as short-term use as possible. Any chronic pain should be treated with additional therapy, e.g. physiotherapy alongside medications, and always discuss with your health care practitioner.

Drug holidays (a break from medication) can be used to identify if medicines are needed. Long-term use of NSAIDs can be associated with gastric ulcers and an increased risk of kidney injury. Long-term paracetamol use can affect the liver and heart.

Herbal and natural medicines for pain

There are several herbal and natural remedies that people use for pain relief. While these remedies may not be as potent as pharmaceutical medications, many individuals find them helpful for managing mild to moderate pain. It's important to note that not all herbal remedies have been extensively studied for their effectiveness, and their safety and efficacy can vary. Always consult with a healthcare professional before using herbal remedies, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking other medications. Here are some herbal and natural medicines commonly used for pain relief:

Turmeric

Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce pain associated with conditions like arthritis. It can be consumed as a spice in food or taken as a supplement.

Ginger

Ginger is another herb with anti-inflammatory properties. It may help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation, particularly in conditions like osteoarthritis. Ginger can be consumed fresh, as a tea, or in supplement form.

Capsaicin

Capsaicin is the active compound found in chili peppers. It works by desensitizing pain receptors in the body, leading to temporary pain relief. Capsaicin cream is available over the counter and can be applied topically to the affected area.

Willow Bark

Willow bark contains a compound called salicin, which is similar to aspirin and has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects. It has been used for centuries to alleviate pain, particularly in conditions like back pain and osteoarthritis.

Arnica

Arnica is a plant that has been used in traditional medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties. It is often used topically in the form of gels, creams, or ointments to relieve muscle aches, bruises, and sprains.

CBD (Cannabidiol)

CBD is a compound derived from the cannabis plant. It has been reported to have pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties, although more research is needed to fully understand its effects. CBD products come in various forms, including oils, creams, and capsules.

Valerian Root

Valerian root has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for pain and insomnia. It may help reduce muscle tension and promote relaxation, leading to pain relief. Valerian root is available in supplement form.

While these herbal and natural remedies may offer some relief from pain, it's important to use them cautiously and in consultation with a healthcare professional, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are pregnant or breastfeeding. Additionally, it's essential to carefully follow dosage instructions and be aware of potential side effects or interactions with other medications.

Alternative pain relief

In addition to medicines, pain management may include the following therapies: exercise, physiotherapy, massage and stretching, and acupuncture. Some research suggests increasing sunshine exposure can help with chronic pain. Meditation and cognitive behavioural therapy are mindful approaches to controlling how we perceive and respond to chronic pain. Reiki is the belief and practice of controlling energy flows in the body to heal, relax and speed recovery. Although there is limited evidence to back up this practice, it is a safe and harmless therapy that has benefited people using it.

A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine uses tiny electrical impulses to interfere with pain signals in the body. This can be used at home with a TENS machine.

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Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed by Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed on 30.10.2023
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