Have you noticed the recent movement to get back to the basics? For instance, people are switching to stand-up desks because sitting is the new smoking, and even city dwellers are suddenly raising their own chickens for organic eggs. So it’s no surprise that people are seeking natural solutions for pain relief.
“People are gravitating toward the use of natural remedies for pain because they do not come with the risks of addiction, drug interactions and side effects,” says Rebecca Lee, a registered nurse from New York City who founded RemediesForMe.com to provide natural remedies, scientific information, and tips on how to live a healthier and more natural life. “The body’s functions and systems respond better to natural remedies than synthetic drugs and have been around for thousands of years.”
With deaths from prescription opioids — drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone — having more than quadrupled since 1999, there’s no time like the present to explore Lee’s natural pain-relief recommendations:
Ice and Heat.
For sprains, wrap the injured area with an elastic bandage, place an ice pack or frozen peas on it, and keep it elevated. This will decrease the swelling and inflammation, while the cold will reduce the rush of blood flow to the area and block the pain receptors. On the other hand, for tight, overworked muscles and knotted back and shoulders, use heat therapy (warm bath or place a heat pack over the tightened area).
Epsom Salt Bath.
Epsom salt, also known as magnesium sulfate, is great to use after a hard workout session. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer and, in the salt form, pulls excess water away from the injured tissues and reduces swelling. Epsom salt relieves muscle cramps, pain and soreness, relaxes the body and increases blood flow. Lee suggests filling your bathtub with warm water, pouring in 2 cups of Epsom salt and soaking for 15 to 20 minutes.
A deep tissue massage will help relieve sore muscles. Your massage therapist can loosen the muscles and reduce pain with essential oils. (Lee proposes peppermint and eucalyptus for cramps, lemon grass and basil for spasms, and lavender and Roman chamomile for tension). You also can use a tennis ball, foam roller or other self-massage techniques.
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to the softening of the spinal cord, weaker muscles in the back and inflamed vertebrae. Research has shown that patients with back pain have significantly lower levels of vitamin D. If you live in a climate with cold, dark winters, Lee says you may need 10 micrograms of a vitamin D supplement daily to avoid becoming deficient.
Capsaicin is the substance that gives chili peppers their spicy heat. It works by depleting a neurotransmitter called substance P. This protein transmits pain signals from nerve endings to the brain and helps activate inflammation in the joints. Less substance P results in less pain and inflammation.
Indian frankincense (Boswellia serrata) is gum resin from the bark of the Boswellia tree. It is a traditional remedy in Ayurvedic medicine. The Boswellic acids found in the resin inhibit enzymes and cytokines that trigger joint inflammation and the autoimmune response. They also help prevent cartilage loss.
This vivid yellow spice is used in Indian curries and other Asian dishes. The active component in turmeric root is curcumin. This anti-inflammatory polyphenol works by inhibiting the activation of genes and production of proteins that trigger pain and swelling. If you decide to use curcumin supplements, Lee advises choosing ones containing black-pepper extract to enhance bioavailability.
Arthritis Research UK gives fish oil a score of 5 out of 5 for effectiveness in treating rheumatoid arthritis. The omega-3 essential fatty acids in fish oil have strong anti-inflammatory properties, which help counteract the many inflammatory elements in a typical Western diet. Fish oil also contains vitamin D, necessary for building and repairing cartilage within the joints. You can increase your omega-3 intake simply by consuming more oily fish such as salmon, trout, herring, mackerel or sardines.