Natural Treatment for Chronic Pain

We are in a crisis in this country. Over 50 million people suffer from chronic pain which greatly interferes with their mobility, their productivity, their interactions with family, friends, and co-workers, and contributes to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and depression. It isolates people and puts them at greater risk for chronic diseases. Chronic pain destroys the fabric of who we are as a community.

Those who suffer seek medical care and are given prescriptions for a wide range of medications which can include opiates. Opiates are part of the crisis as approximately 130 people die from opioid overdose each day from both intentional and unintentional overuse. The access to and availability of opiates is due in part to the prescriptions that are given to those with chronic pain.

When it comes to natural approaches to pain, I would be remiss to not mention the tremendous benefits of modalities such as meditation, acupuncture, diet, exercise, biofeedback, and more. But Mother Earth has provided a plant world that offers numerous compounds with analgesic, or pain-relieving, qualities that should be considered before someone is prescribed a multitude of medications that come with side effects and potential long-term sequelae. These plants have the ability of reducing inflammation and alleviating pain. While the precise mechanisms of action have not always been completely elucidated, the ways in which they work have been perfected during millions of years of evolution.

My top 5 pain-relieving plant recommendations are:

  1. Devil’s claw. Devil’s claw is so named because the fruit of this plant have claws that attach to animals in an effort to spread their seed. This is a perennial plant and the tuberous roots contain iridoid glycoside, the most potent is harpagoside. Harpagoside inhibits enzymes the cause inflammation and the pain response. Devils claw is effective for back pain, muscle pain, joint pain, and even headaches.
  2. This is a spice commonly used in Asian food and is derived from the root of the turmeric plant. Curcumin is the primary active constituent. It is effective for neuropathic pain, arthritic pain and headaches as well as for acute muscle and joint injuries.
  3. Willow Bark. This tincture comes from the bark of several species of willow tree. It is the original source of salicin which is what makes up aspirin. Willow bark is used effectively for back pain, joint pain, gout, muscle strain, headaches, and dizziness.
  4. Bromelain is an enzyme that comes from the pineapple fruit and is important for inhibiting some of the inflammatory mediators that are directly related to pain. Its efficacy has been found to be similar to some prescribed pain medications. Bromelain is helpful to relieve pain from traumatic injury or muscle spasms.
  5. Evening primrose oil. EPO is a plant that contains the fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). EPO not only improves symptoms of neuropathic pain but also may aid in repair and regeneration of damaged nerves.

The plant world not only offers a powerful food source to keep us well and healthy but also provides species that harbor compounds that can be extracted and used for its healing powers. When used appropriately, these compounds have low toxicity profile and minimal concern for side effects. My patients often appreciate either a natural approach or an integrative approach. Please speak with your physician regarding the potential consideration of plant-based medicine for chronic pain.


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