Herbal remedies are the building blocks of modern medicine. Since before recorded history, humans have been harnessing the healing properties of herbs for chronic pain and a number of other conditions.

The earliest herbal traditions were based on experimentation as well as cause and effect. When a root, seed, or plant had a restorative effect on a person, it was used more frequently. Those instances led to understanding the plant’s effect on additional conditions. Over centuries, our experience with these herbs changed. Our knowledge of chemical analysis was born and we were able to determine which specific properties of plants helped certain conditions and, more importantly, why. Research is still continuing and our knowledge base is still increasing, but herbs remain viable treatments for a number of conditions.

It was in the 19th century before herbal remedies transitioned from folklore and witchcraft to science. Chemists began creating their own compounds that kickstarted the early days of the drug industry. In that time, these compounds began to replace herbs as a medical treatment.

Today, herbal remedies are becoming popular again with increased attention being paid to natural and holistic health. Individuals dealing with a variety of conditions from acute to chronic pain can benefit from the advancements made in herbal medicine over the course of human history.

Herbs for chronic pain

There are a number of herbs that can be used to treat chronic pain. Chronic pain is any pain that lasts more than three months. Typically it is caused by a chronic condition, such as osteoarthritis, or it can result from an injury that did not heal as expected. There are a number of invasive and interventional procedures as well as drugs such as NSAIDs or opioids that can be used, but some patients find relief from herbs as well.

There is a nearly comprehensive list about herbs for chronic pain on this site, but here is a quick overview of some common herbs and how they help individuals with chronic pain conditions.

Boswellia

While this name may be unknown to you, this is the plant that brings us frankincense. Boswellia has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to treat arthritis and other forms of joint pain.  Boswellia comes from a family of resinous trees that gives us the burnable and beautifully fragrant frankincense. The restorative properties of this herb for chronic pain are found in a gum yielded by the paper bark of the plant.

Caffeine

Did you know your morning coffee could help you manage your chronic pain? One of the key ingredients in several over-the-counter pain relievers is actually caffeine. It stands to reason that adding small, healthy amounts of caffeine to your diet could help with overall pain relief. Caffeine blocks pain receptors in the brain and elevates your overall mood. However, be careful with caffeine in your diet because there can be too much of a good thing and sometimes caffeine can actually cause or increase pain.

Feverfew

Migraine sufferers may find relief in the powdered leaves of the feverfew plant. Feverfew is part of the daisy family and grows throughout North America and Europe. The plant is best used as a preventative measure for migraines. Patients who take feverfew for their headache pain report a reduction in the occurrence of their migraines over time.

Flaxseed

Osteoporosis is a degenerative condition often associated with the body’s natural aging process. Over time our bones begin to lose mass. In some cases this can be extreme and result in easy breaks that can be difficult to heal. Osteoporosis affects more women than men, especially after menopause. Flaxseed is a natural hormone replacement therapy alternative, which is one of the more common treatments for osteoporosis. Patients who take flaxseed supplements may be able to lessen the effects of the condition on their bodies.

Capsaicin

Capsaicin is a compound found in all varieties of peppers that directly affects their levels of heat. Capsaicin, especially as a topical treatment, helps to alleviate a number of chronic pain conditions. When used on the skin, it causes some initial burning but it helps to numb the nerves and deaden the pain sensation temporarily. Capsaicin is used in a number of over-the-counter pain treatments as well.

Turmeric

A list of herbs for chronic pain wouldn’t be complete without turmeric. This yellow Indian spice is common in curries, but recent research is showing that it can also provide relief for arthritis or even joint injuries. It turns out that the pigment itself may be responsible for the anti-inflammatory properties of the spice. The best way to obtain the healing effects of turmeric is to eat it, so it really may be one of the most delicious pain remedies you can use.

White willow bark

The earliest building blocks of modern-day aspirin are found in the bark of the white willow tree. In fact, the bark of several forms of willow trees can help alleviate pain in a similar way to over-the-counter pain relievers. It can be used for headaches, muscle pain, or even low back pain. Low back pain is one of the leading causes of workers’ compensation claims in the United States. However, white willow bark can have some of the same side effects as aspirin and should be used with caution.

For information on the best way to use these herbs for chronic pain, it is best to seek out a trained herbalist to learn more. It is important that these herbs are used in a safe way. Even a bit of minor misinformation can lead to complex problems in the long term. Holistic healthcare providers can give you more information on how to safely and effectively use these natural treatments and work with you to develop a personalized plan.

Herbal remedies have an amazing history as a part of the evolution of human culture. Every civilization has offered their experience and stories surrounding the gifts of these natural plants. This history now allows modern societies to create compounds and medications to help individuals suffering from a variety of conditions. Leaves, barks, roots, flowers, and every other component of helpful plants can still provide relief for pain or discomfort. Delving into the history of herbs for chronic pain is a rich and exciting place that can lead to a better understanding of the world around us and the way health and science shape our lives.

We would love to hear from you. What experience have you had using herbs for chronic pain in your life?

Image by Christine Olson via Flickr

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