For many people, reaching for pain relievers is as instinctual as eating. When hunger arises, the first thought is to head to the refrigerator to grab a bite. At the first sign of pain, their first thought is to swallow a pain pill. Pain pills, however, have their costs.
You can find relief without side effects that NSAIDs tend to cause through natural means.
Why Not NSAIDs?
Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Panadol, etc.) is known to cause liver damage. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.), can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and impaired kidney function. They can also inhibit cartilage repair in the knees, hips and other joints.
In addition to being addictive, Lortab, Percocet and other narcotic painkillers can cause drowsiness and clouded thinking. The muscle relaxant cyclobenzprine (Flexeril) has been linked with dizziness, rash, arrhythmia and even convulsions.
In certain cases, the risks posed by these adverse reactions are often offset by clear benefits. When pain is especially severe, nothing can seemingly replace the merciful relief of medication. For everyday discomforts – like tension headaches, ankle sprains, joint stiffness, back pain and postsurgical pain – it’s often better to skip drugs and opt instead for natural treatments.
Ice may seem old-fashioned, but it remains one of the best natural painkillers. It’s great for back pain, aching, swollen joints and headache. It reduces congestion, improves blood circulation and promotes healing. A bag of frozen peas works as well as an ice pack, and it can be refrozen and reused many times. Usually a 10-minute application, two or three times each hour, is effective.
If headaches are your problem, drinking lots of water is often all that’s needed. In particular, tension headaches and “toxic” headaches from drinking too much alcohol or consuming too much caffeine respond well to this increase in water consumption. Have eight ounces of water every 10 minutes for one hour. Make sure a bathroom is handy before starting this remedy, however!
For acute sprains, strains and scrapes, bruises and other minor trauma, nothing beats arnica. This homeopathic remedy – available in health food stores and now many drugstores – reduces bruising and pain. Unless you are accident-prone, a single vial costing less than $10 should last several years. Arnica in 30C potency – typically two pellets one to three times a day, for up to seven days – is a good regimen.
For tendinitis and sciatica, and to speed recovery from surgery, bromelain will provide some welcome relief. This natural anti-inflammatory agent, which is an enzyme derived from pineapple, stimulates the breakdown of inflammatory compounds at the injury site. Bromelain is available in capsules at health-food stores and pharmacies. The typical dosage is 250 mg one to four times a day. Bromlain is off limits for people with high blood pressure.
Bowellia serrata (frankincense) has a long tradition as an arthritis treatment in India and the Middle East. Through human studies on this herb are inadequate, the clinical experience of many practitioners has been extremely promising. Boswellia is a good substitute for NSAIDs in cases involving back pain, arthritis, inflammatory joint pain and acute muscle and bone injuries.
Even with long-term use, Boswellia does not seem to cause the gastrointestinal bleeding and pain that can be a problem with NSAID use. Boswellia can be found in health food stores. Look for it alone, or combined with ginger and turmeric, two additional herbal pain relievers that are easy on the stomach. The typical dose is 300 mg of Boswellia, three times a day, as needed for pain.