Treating Pain Naturally
Pain is cited as the most common reason Americans access the health care system and is a leading cause of disability. The National Center for Health Statistics estimates approximately 76.2 million Americans have suffered from pain that lasts longer than 24 hours and millions more suffer from acute pain. According to the CDC, as many as 1 in 5 people suffering from non-cancer pain receive a prescription opioid. These alarming facts paired with our country’s ongoing opioid crisis stress the need for the implementation of natural pain treatments into today’s healthcare system. The natural treatments for pain include, but are not limited to, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, manipulation and lifestyle modifications.
Herbs commonly used to treat pain are cayenne pepper, Boswellia, hemp, Jamaican dogwood, turmeric and willow bark. Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, which is a substance that has been shown to reduce the amount of substance P. Substance P is a chemical in the body which carries pain messages to the brain. With decreased levels of substance P come decreased levels of pain due to fewer pain messages reaching the brain.
Resin extracts of Boswellia have been used for centuries to treat chronic inflammatory diseases. The anti-inflammatory properties of Boswellia are due to the inhibition of the pro-inflammatory enzyme 5-lipoxygenase.
Hemp contains a cannabinoid called cannabidiol (CBD), which has recently gained popularity in the media. CBD indirectly acts on cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system resulting in decreased inflammation and pain.
Jamaican dogwood is one of the strongest non-narcotic herbal analgesics. The chemical constituents in Jamaican dogwood are credited with muscle-relaxing effects that would contribute to its traditional use for pain and muscle spasms.
Turmeric contains curcumin, which is very anti-inflammatory. Curcumin affects inflammation by the down-regulation of inflammatory transcription factors, cytokines, redox status, protein kinases, and enzymes.
Willow bark has been used to treat pain and inflammation for thousands of years due to salicin content. When willow bark is ingested and absorbed, the salicin is metabolized to saligenin, which the liver metabolizes to salicylic acid, a precursor to aspirin. White willow bark acts as a nonselective inhibitor of the pro-inflammatory enzyme cyclooxygenase.
Nutraceuticals, or pharmaceutical alternatives that propose physiological benefits, commonly used to treat pain are bromelain and magnesium. Bromelain is an enzyme derived from pineapple stems, which has both analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Bromelain inhibits the synthesis of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and directly decreases the level of various pain mediators, including bradykinin.
Magnesium, a mineral, is very important for many bodily functions. In regards to pain magnesium inhibits calcium ions from entering cells by blocking NMDA receptors, which inhibits the perception and sensation of pain. Numerous studies have found magnesium beneficial for patients suffering from neuropathic pain, dysmenorrhea, tension headache and acute migraine attack.
Acupuncture is a subsection of Traditional Chinese Medicine that involves the insertion of thin needles into the skin to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissues throughout the body. It is believed to stimulate the body’s energy-carrying channels in an attempt to correct imbalances and to restore health. Acupuncture enhances endogenous opiates and releases corticosteroids, relieving pain and enhancing the healing process.
Hydrotherapy is a modality in alternative medicine, occupational therapy and physiotherapy that involves the use of water internally and externally for treatment of various diseases and conditions including pain. Common types of hydrotherapy include warm water baths, steam baths, sitz baths, sauna, compresses, wraps, contrast hydrotherapy and pool hydrotherapy. Water therapy has been used for centuries in rehabilitation and holistic medicine and has the ability to ease inflammation and stimulate circulation.
Manipulation is the application of pressure to a person’s spine or other parts of their body by a qualified healthcare provider. Manipulation is commonly used to alleviate spinal nerve pressure and reduce muscle spasms. The goals of manipulation are to increase range of motion, reduce nerve irritability and improve overall function.
Experts say a diet overhaul can have a dramatic effect on those suffering from chronic pain and a comprehensive diet plan should be part of such patients’ treatment plans. The ideal diet for chronic pain sufferers would be an anti-inflammatory diet due to the effect of inflammation levels on pain. The main components of an anti-inflammatory diet are consume a minimum of 8 servings of fresh vegetables/fruit daily, restrict dairy/grains, and avoid red meat. Also, daily exercise, such as walking, swimming or cycling, can optimize the effects of an anti-inflammatory diet. The combination of an anti-inflammatory diet and an exercise regimen may also encourage weight loss, which is crucial as obesity is highly inflammatory.
Take the first step in your healing journey and schedule an appointment with a naturopathic physician to begin a pain treatment protocol specific for you and start living again!
Christie A. Morelli, N.D. is a licensed naturopathic physician currently practicing at ProNatural Physicians Group based in Berlin. Dr. Morelli earned her doctorate in naturopathic medicine from the University of Bridgeport in 2018. Dr. Morelli strongly believes her patients can achieve optimal health by integrating a combination of naturopathic and allopathic medicine. Dr. Morelli’s treatment modalities include botanical and nutraceutical supplementation, nutrition, aromatherapy, hydrotherapy, lifestyle modification and patient education. She can be contacted at ProNatural Physicians Group at 860-829-0707.