Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Chronic or recurrent pain is an unwelcome condition for the many who suffer from it. About 25 million Americans – more than 10% of the population – say they experience pain on a daily basis, according to a 2012 National Health Interview Survey. In fact, in an effort to relieve chronic pain, millions of Americans are being treated with opioids, and nearly 2 million Americans are abusing opioids or have an addiction to them. And, in the over-the-counter category, oral pain relievers are among the highest-selling products, according to consumer data from The Nielsen Company.
While those in severe chronic pain may not be able to wean off pain meds entirely, there are some natural and effective pain relievers that you might consider trying instead of or in conjunction with your regular pain meds, with your doctor’s blessing, of course. We’re looking at five common ailments – and the science-backed natural remedies that can help tame the pain.
If you’ve experienced the burning sensation from cutting into a hot chile, then you’re already familiar with capsaicin. This heat-inducing, spicy component in chiles can also be leveraged to ease the pain of inflamed joints by disrupting the normal functioning of your nerve receptors including their ability to process pain signals. Capsaicin has been shown to relieve pain when used regularly in sufferers of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia by as much as 50%. You’ll find capsaicin creams and gels ranging in strength from 0.025 to 0.075%, and it can be used topically three to four times daily.
Peppermint tea has long been a household remedy for tummy troubles, so you may not be surprised to learn that recent research is providing backup to the potential of this powerful herb. It has a wide range of benefits: It’s antispasmodic, it’s calming, it boosts digestion and it has anti-nausea effects. Several studies show that peppermint oil can be beneficial for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); in one randomized, double-blind study, enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules improved the severity of pain in more than 75% of the study participants who took it. Peppermint oil is normally used for IBS as it’s a more concentrated form than tea. Avoid taking peppermint if you have gastroesophageal reflex (GERD) as it can exacerbate the condition.
Related: Eat to Beat Migraines
Need some pain relief until you can make it to the dentist? Cloves, the flower buds from the tropical evergreen tree Syzygium aromaticum are rich in a compound called eugenol, which has both antiseptic and anesthetic properties. For centuries, cloves have been used for breath freshening and tooth pain, and modern science confirms its efficacy: A 2006 study found that clove gel applied topically worked just as well as the topical anesthetic benzocaine gel for easing the pain of needle insertion. To use, place a clove near the tooth and keep it there, or pour the oil onto a cotton pad and place on or near the tooth. Don’t ingest clove oil in large quantities, and always check in with your dentist to ensure your tooth pain isn’t a sign of anything more serious that needs attention.
Research suggests that low levels of the mineral magnesium may play a role in migraines – an interesting fact considering that magnesium deficiency is widespread with almost two-thirds of the Western population not getting enough. Magnesium oxide is used for migraine prevention, at a dose of 400 to 500 milligrams, according to the American Migraine Foundation, and it’s mostly effective in those whose migraines are accompanied by aura. However, there are other forms of magnesium that are better tolerated or absorbed by the body, such as magnesium citrate, malate or aspartate. Check with your health-care professional about dosages for migraine prevention before taking as they can vary depending on the form.
While fighting pain is likely the most immediate problem, the key to avoiding painkillers in the long run is to get to the source of the problem – particularly for chronic pain sufferers. If you’re struggling with a painful inflammatory condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and looking for a supplemental painkiller, opt for more natural herbs like kratom instead of reaching for traditional pain pills. Following an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, and including lifestyle practices such as exercising, meditating and getting quality sleep give your body the tools it needs to tackle inflammation. We suggest working with both your doctor and natural health practitioner together to develop a tailored supplement plan that’s right for you.