Natural Pain Remedies: Advice from an Herbalist

Natural Pain Remedies: Advice from an Herbalist

Salves, liniments, and poultices, oh my! The complementary and alternative medicine market has exploded in the US in recent years, increasing 25% from 2016 to now. It’s not for nothing, either. “Traditional Chinese Medicine has used topical herbs… for thousands of years,” says Dr. Kerry Boyle D.Ac., M.S., L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. “With this time tested track record, you can be assured using herbs on sore and achy muscles is safe and effective.”

A low risk option

What reason do we have for reaching for herbal remedies rather than pharmaceutical medicines? “The limited amount of side effects that herbal remedies result in are the number reason people and physicians are recommending them,” says Dr. Boyle. “As we as a society recover from the opioid epidemic, we need alternatives to pain that do not result in the horrific effects of opioid dependence. Natural remedies, like herbs and acupuncture, have far fewer, if any, side effects and non-habit forming.”

Give it some time

However, be prepared for the effects of herbal remedies (a.k.a. complementary medicines) to take a bit longer to kick in. A good rule of thumb, says Dr. Boyle, is to give the remedy at least one week of treatment for every one month you have had the pain to experience results. “As always, consulting with a licensed health care provider is recommended,” urges Dr. Boyle. “A Naturopathic Doctor or Licensed Acupuncturist would be a great professional resource for advice on herbal medicines.”

Best herbs for the job

So, which herbs should you reach for when dealing with neck and back pain? According to Dr. Boyle, some of the most common ingredients used for topical pain relief include menthol, camphor, cinnamon, and angelica root.

Menthol is likely the most familiar herb of the bunch. A compound found in peppermint, menthol tastes hand smells pungent and minty, and is cooling to the touch. Menthol is what’s called a counterirritant, meaning it makes your skin feel cool, then warm, which distracts you from your pain, so it’s great for aches and pains from sore muscles and joints (hear ye hear ye, arthritis sufferers!).

Camphor—which is made from the wood of the camphor tree—is also a counterirritant and works in conjunction with menthol to relieve pain.

Cinnamon, one of the world’s most beloved warm spices, is way more useful of a tool than you may think. Studies have shown that ingesting three grams of cinnamon powder daily reduces muscle soreness; cinnamon is also believed to reduce inflammation.

Last but not least is angelica root, which can be applied topically for nerve and joint pain—just make sure you look for products that contain angelica sinensis, as the every part of the angelica plant has a different use!

When in doubt, take a bath

Beyond these herbs, though, people who suffer from muscle tension and soreness can benefit from a good bath. The key to taking a bath from relaxing to recovering? What you add. “Epsom salts are an inexpensive and effective home remedy for pain relief. Simply take about 1/2 cup of Epsom salts and add to a warm to hot bath,” says Dr. Boyle. She also recommends adding essential oils like lavender, marjoram, wintergreen or peppermint (but make sure to dilute them in the bath; never directly apply an essential oil!).

Beyond home remedies massage therapy and acupuncture are great options for chronic muscle pain. “Acupuncture is ultimate in non invasive and natural pain relief options,” says Dr. Boyle, who is a doctor of acupuncture. “By causing an increase to the flow of blood and reducing inflammation, small acupuncture needles lead to the body relaxing and healing.”