Natural pain relief: Herbal remedies
Pain is a warning signal designed to protect your body. The brain interprets danger messages from the body when there’s an injury and generates a feeling of pain. However, this isn’t always a failsafe, reliable system. There can be miscommunications between the body and the brain. Sometimes, the brain can create pain when the body is fine. In other words, there’s pain from injury (and injuries heal), and there’s pain that presents as a false alarm. Meaning that stress and fear can amplify pain. A key component of pain management, then, is downregulating your nervous system and supporting your overall well-being. The following nutrients may help.
Colloquially known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’, magnesium supports the normal psychological function. This mineral is an especially helpful addition to your emotional health.
The family of B vitamins play an important role in nervous system and psychological function, making them critical for your overall wellbeing.
St John’s Wort
A perennial plant with yellow, star-shaped flowers, St John’s Wort is a traditional herbal remedy used for the relief of mild anxiety and slightly low mood.
Found in black tea, L-theanine is often recommended for its soothing, calming properties.
Eating to manage pain
What you choose to eat can have a huge impact on your mood, sleep, immunity, digestion, and, yes, even your experience of pain.
Wholefoods for the win
Eating a mainly wholefood diet is one of the best ways to support your health and manage pain. Highly processed, overly-greasy, ultra-refined foods can trigger an inflammatory response in the body, which is associated with pain. Try to live by this rule: if it grows, eat it; if it doesn’t, think twice before putting it in your shopping trolley.
Think more plant-based
Embracing a plant-focused diet may also support pain management. This approach is touted to reduce symptoms in two ways: firstly, a plant-based diet eliminates animal-based products, like butter, cheese, and milk, which contain saturated fats that may contribute to an inflammatory response in the body and lead to pain. Secondly, plant foods are packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals, which are known to support good overall health.
Gut health and pain
Gut health is having its moment in the wellness space for good reason. Aside from supporting immune function, digestion, and skin, the gut may also influence pain. Thanks to a little thing called the ‘gut-brain-axis’, a healthy gut means a healthy brain. And the brain, of course, is what controls feelings of pain.
Feed your gut
Aim for 30 grams of fibre each day (most people only get 17 grams!)
Eat the three k’s: kefir, kombucha, and kimchi
Consider time-restricted feeding (eating your food in an 8-12-hour window)
Get 7-9 hours’ sleep every night
Spice it up
Practitioners of Ayurveda medicine have long recognised the importance of herbs and spices to support the reduction of pain. Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and garlic come highly recommended, so cram them into your food.
Pain relief remedies
A critical mineral, magnesium supports muscle function. It’s a great choice for people experiencing discomfort.
A member of the N-acylethanolamine (NAE) family, PEA is found in almost every cell and vital for chemical signalling in the body. An alternative to CBD, PEA is a popular choice to tackle those niggles that might hold you back.
Vitamin C supports normal muscle function, as well as normal collagen formation and function of cartilage, making it a useful addition for those struggling with stiffness and discomfort.
Vitamin D3 plays an important role in muscle and bone function. It’s a critical nutrient for good overall health, especially if you’re less active than you used to be.
Devil’s Claw is a traditional herbal medicinal product used for the relief of backache, rheumatic or muscular pain, and general aches and pains in the muscles and joints.
Found in oily fish and microalgae, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are important for good overall health. They’re often recommended as the perfect partner to Devil’s Claw.
Glucosamine has become one of the most popular supplements with millions of people choosing to take it on a regular basis.
Prized as a ‘super-fruit’ by herbalists, rosehip contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative damage. It’s often recommended to people who take Glucosamine or Devil’s Claw.
Lifestyle changes to help with pain management
Deep belly breathing
Stress and breathing have a bidirectional relationship: the more stressed you feel, the faster you’ll breathe. And the faster you breathe, the more stressed you feel. To bring stress under control, you need to bring breathing under control. Deep belly breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for the ‘rest and digest’ state. Spending a few minutes intentionally breathing every day will communicate messages of safety to your brain, even if you don’t feel it. And this will positively impact your experience of pain.
If you live with pain, it can be tempting to avoid all movement to avoid further injury. But inactivity can often amplify pain. Moving your body is one of the best ways to re-educate an overprotective pain system. Gentle exercise reminds your body that movement is safe, normal, and nothing to be feared. Exercise also releases feel-good hormones called endorphins, which are known to block pain signals from reaching the brain.
Take a walk
When your brain says, “you can’t go for a walk; you’ll just be in more pain”, prove that it’s wrong. Take yourself on a stroll and only stop when you want to stop.
Smiling through the pain
For people who experience pain, the idea of self-care can feel impossible at times. But it doesn’t need to be complicated or hard. A simple smile can often work wonders. Smiling activates the brain’s reward system in a way chocolate, a sugary treat widely known for inducing pleasure, can’t even match. In a study, researchers found a single smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as 2,000 chocolate bars (1).
Close your eyes, lift the corners of your mouth, and breathe.
Surround yourself with loved ones
Did you know the availability of family support can affect the perception of pain? Having a strong network of loved ones around you may buffer against physiological reactions and pain responses.
Stop trying so hard
It may sound counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to manage pain is to simply stop trying so hard to fix it. The very act of trying to find that ‘magic bullet’ reinforces the danger signals you’re trying to overcome.
Journaling is an excellent medium to make space for your emotions and release any negative thoughts that may be triggering or exacerbating discomfort. Consider writing a stream of consciousness for 10-15 minutes first-thing in the morning. Don’t think too hard about it; just pen whatever comes to mind. Keeping a record of your experience with pain can also be a useful tool when it comes to seeking help from your healthcare provider.
Remember, your thoughts aren’t facts
When a negative thought pops into your head – as it commonly does when you experience pain – try not to fight it. Instead, just let it pass, like clouds in the sky. In time, your brain will learn that it doesn’t need to listen to excessively unconstructive, damaging thoughts.
Nurtured by nature
Research suggests that spending at least 120 minutes a week in green spaces can lead to a greater sense of wellbeing. Natural settings have the power to energise us, make us happier, relieve stress, connect us to others, and provide space to move our bodies and ‘switch off’. And since physical discomfort is closely associated with emotional distress, time spent in the natural world may also improve symptoms.
Why does nature make us happy?
Many people turn to nature amidst the chaos and busyness of the modern world, but why does it make us happy?
A place to see fractals
Fractals are repeating patterns that are ubiquitous in the natural world. You can see them in flowers, snowflakes, ocean waves, and leaves. As humans, we’re hard-wired to recognise these shapes in nature. And now research suggests exposure to fractals may reduce stress by up to 60%.
A place to enjoy the sounds of nature
Birdsong, rainfall, ocean waves, the wind in the trees – the sounds of nature are innately soothing and grounding. Researchers have found that natural sounds activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our ‘rest and digest’ state and associated with relaxation in the body (2)
A place to move
Of course, spending time in nature often means you’re moving your body. Exercise – even if all you can manage is a gentle stroll – releases feel-good hormones called endorphins, which are known to support your wellbeing and reduce symptoms of physical discomfort. Free and accessible, the natural world is, arguably, the best gym going.
A place to bask in the sun
Time spent in natural spaces also means time spent in sunlight. As humans, we all need exposure to sunlight. When the sun hits our skin and eyes, we synthesise vitamin D3, which plays a multifaceted role in health and wellbeing. Perhaps most importantly, vitamin D3 supports bones and muscle function, making it essential if you experience physical discomfort.
Just 10 minutes in a green space can help lessen the effect of physical and emotional stress, which is often associated with pain (3).
Most of us are familiar with the emotional warmth that washes over us when we smile at a stranger or tell a loved one how much we care about them. That’s because kindness is, in many respects, medicine. It can increase happiness, energy, and longevity and decrease stress, anxiety, and low mood. In this, practising kindness may be useful for physical discomfort, which is closely associated with stress.
Of course, being kind to yourself is also important. Self-compassion can improve your ability to self-soothe and turn down the threat dial, which is activated by pain. Practising self-compassion takes time; it can be hard to change your inner monologue. But there are some simple ways to incorporate more of it into your daily life.
Talk to yourself gently, as you would to a small child or loved one. You could even use diminutives, like “darling” or “sweetheart”
Ask yourself: “What would I do if this was a friend?”
Use soft self-touch, such as giving yourself a massage or gently placing a hand on top of the painful area
In simple terms, stress makes us unhappy; kindness makes us happy.
Sleep and pain
Chronic pain and sleep issues often go hand in hand. Besides making it harder to fall asleep, pain can also lead to shorter overall sleep time and frequent night-time awakenings (4). Rousing throughout the night can interrupt the progression of your sleep stages (light sleep, slow-wave sleep, and rapid eye movement), which you need to cycle through to feel balanced and well-rested. And so, if your sleep is disrupted due to pain, you will feel tired, lethargic, and sluggish the next day.
Pain and Insomnia
People who experience chronic pain often suffer from a self-perpetuating cycle of anxiety, low mood, pain, and insomnia. If you’re in pain, for instance, you may become concerned and anxious when you can’t sleep. You may have a restless night and stir in the morning despondent and low, which is known to heighten sensitivity to pain. The following night, you may experience more pain, disrupting sleep and continuing the cycle.
Improving sleep hygiene
Sleep is the elixir of life; it’s the Swiss army knife of health. And so, it should come as no surprise that getting enough sleep is fundamental to pain management. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to optimise your sleep hygiene.
More on pain management
You may silence the danger signals and minimise the pain if you fundamentally modify your connection with the dread of pain - the way you behave when it arises - and convey messages of safety to your brain. In the same way that suffering may be learnt, it can also be unlearned. If you want to learn more about particular pain remedies and reasons, you may visit our pharmacy library information on pain.
One smile can make you feel a million dollars. (2022). Available online: https://www.scotsman.com/health/one-smile-can-make-you-feel-million-dollars-2469850
It’s true – the sound of nature helps us relax – BSMS. (2022). Available online: https://www.scotsman.com/health/one-smile-can-make-you-feel-million-dollars-2469850
Stanhope J, et al.. Exposure to greenspaces could reduce the high global burden of pain. Environ Res. 187:109641.
Finan P. H., et al.. The association of sleep and pain: an update and a path forward. The journal of pain: official journal of the American Pain Society. 14(12), 1539–1552.
Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.