Pain is something we’re all familiar with. It presents in a variety of different ways, and with a variety of characteristics. And while pain may have a very physical manifestation, it is acknowledged to be a complex physiological and psychological phenomenon. The reaction to pain is highly subjective and is influenced by a variety of factors. We know that actual nociception (the sensory nervous system’s response to harmful stimuli), is at least partially controlled by psychological, social, and situational factors. Furthermore, the perception of the intensity of pain differs from person to person. Despite these factors, all pain is typically managed the same way.
Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever every once in a while, like Aleve or Tylenol, for rapid relief is
okay. However, most don't know that there is an upper limit to the use of painkillers, and taking them more than the recommended amount may actually cause rebound headaches. Ibuprofen and Naproxen (Advil/Aleve) should be used at most 10 days/month, and Acetaminophen (Tylenol) no more than 15 days/month. Pain relievers are not intended for long-term relief, and far too often the underlying medical cause for the pain succumbs to self-medicated rather than being addressed.
Contrary to what you might believe, over-the-counter pain relievers will not work for every type of pain we might experience.
Furthermore, long-term use of NSAIDS has been shown to increase risks for heart disease, hearing, inflammatory bowel disease, and kidney function. NSAIDs, especially at high doses, have been shown to increase blood pressure, as well as increased the risk for heart attack and stroke.
Aside from over-the-counter pain relievers, there are a number of other natural ways to combat pain, depending on the underlying causes and symptoms one is experiencing. Some of the more common natural ways to treat pain include:
Meditation – High levels of stress can lead to more muscle tension, as well as trigger headaches, reduce immune responses, and cause various body aches and pain. We see the art of meditation work quite successfully in the process of childbirth. A significant amount of literature confirms a more relaxed state lowers the autonomic nervous system response and decreases the perception of pain. Learning how to meditate to alleviate stress could very help reduce or control the perception of physical pain.
Acupuncture – Contrary to autonomic relaxation, acupuncture is an example of a counter-stimulus therapy used to manage pain. Originally indicated to restore balance by inserting minute needles into specific locations on the body, acupuncture has been found to be effective in treating neck pain, back pain, fibromyalgia pain, post-surgery pain, arthritis, and headaches, including migraines. A large review of the literature confirmed 70% efficacy of pain management with acupuncture compared to placebo (1), and provided analgesic relief in 55-85% of patients with chronic pain, compared to medications like morphine, which has 70% efficacy (2). Needles can be inserted along meridians, directly into trigger points, or by a technique known as dry needling.
Exercise – Light to moderate exercise can help reduce pain. Yoga, for instance, is a great solution to help reduce pain associated with arthritis, muscle tension, as well as back and upper body pain. Tai chi is another form of exercise that can also be used to reduce pain and discomfort associated with various disorders, like fibromyalgia. It has also been shown to have tremendous effects on mood and the ability to handle stress. One must be mindful to not push through the pain when engaging in exercise for pain relief.
Curcumin – A member of the ginger family and the major chemical component of turmeric, this spice has numerous clinical trials confirming its anti-inflammatory properties in the management of pain relief and reduction. Curcumin has been shown to downregulate and even inhibit the formation of pro-inflammatory genes and cytokines (3), and I’ve personally seen it effectively manage everything from arthritic pain to inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s/Colitis). Curcumin is best absorbed with fat and can be added to sauces and foods you eat, drank as a traditional tea known as “golden milk”, or can be taken in supplement form (always ask your ND for advice on choosing an effective curcumin product, as most won’t be absorbed).
Increase Intake of Omega 3 – Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) can help reduce levels of chronic inflammation and pain perception. These fatty acids are precursors to protective prostaglandins and have been shown to change ratios of prostaglandins associated with chronic inflammation (4). They are found in the highest concentrations of fish and certain nuts and seeds, such as pumpkin seeds and flax. It has also been found to be an effective way to lower the pain and discomfort associated with various types of arthritis, slow tumour growth, and improve depression scores! Its generally advised to have a minimum of 1000 mg daily combined EPA+DHA for maintenance of general health, and closer to 3-4 g daily for pain modulation and cardiovascular health. Once again, talk to your ND about what fish oil is right for you, as fatty acids come from numerous sources, are subject to a number of different extraction methods, and spoil easily.
As you can see, there are numerous effective natural ways to treat pain that do not require taking over-the-counter pain relievers. Remember, supplementation with some of the aforementioned therapies is not always safe for everyone, especially those on blood thinning medication.
To discover if any of these therapies are right for you, or to discuss more ways to alleviate pain naturally, please feel contact Dr. Courtney Holmberg, ND at 647-351-7282 to schedule a consultation today!
Lewith GT, Machin D. On the evaluation of the clinical efficacy of acupuncture. Pain. 1983; 16: 111-127.
Stux G, Pomeranz B. Basics of Acupuncture. New York: Springer-Verlag; 1988.
Bharat B. Aggarwal targeting, inflammation-induced obesity and metabolic disease by curcumin and other nutraceuticals. Annu Rec Nutr. 2010; 30:14. 1-14.27
Galarraga B, Ho M, Youssef HM, Hill A, McMahon H, Hall C, Ogston S, Nuki G, Belch JJ. Cod liver oil (n-3 fatty acids) as an non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug sparing agent in rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2008 May;47(5):665-9.