Herbal Pain Relief

Herbal Pain Relief
Really Works

Why would a doctor recommend herbal pain relief instead of prescription or over-the-counter pain medications? Almost everyone wants medication for pain from time to time. And there are times when a prescription pain medication can be very appropriate, in cases especially of acute pain from an injury, fracture, surgery, dental injury, or other short term but painful conditions. But when pain becomes chronic, the problems with pain medication multiply. Without spending too much time on the details, just remember that if you could hear all the words being said very rapidly at the end of the “ask your doctor about…” commercials, you would hear a pretty scary list of side effects. What if you have a safer alternative. I’d like that very much indeed, let’s talk about it.

Before the discussion, just a reminder: if you have any unexplained pain, please seek evaluation and treatment by a licensed health professional. Pain sometimes indicates a problem that needs to be treated rather than just “turned off” whether by herbal pain relief or any other means.

What are some chronic pain conditions for which herbal medication may be appropriate? Arthritis, headaches, chronic abdominal pain, infant colic, neuropathy, fibromyalgia, and back pain are all candidates for herbal pain relief. I will not spend a lot of time on this page on the details of each herb, but will simply list them here with their chief uses, then develop their healing stories in more detail on their own herbal medications pages. Remember that homeopathy remedies are a whole separate category. Let’s talk about the herbal medications one at a time and all the things they could be useful for and why: 

Ginger: Ginger is a great anti-inflammatory and has a long history of use in herbal medicine as a remedy for rheumatism. There are also some data showing it can help prevent and relieve headaches. I am also very fond of ginger for those small discomforts which some would not count as “serious pain” but which every mother knows can ruin a nice afternoon, indigestion and tummy aches in kids. Ginger is quite harmless and thus is one of the herbs I feel best about using for children. 

Turmeric: another very safe herb with centuries of use as a food in India especially, turmeric has very potent anti-inflammatory properties, similar to ginger. I would highly recommend it to people with joint aches and pains. It is sometimes used in combination with ginger, a well known brand called Zyflamend uses this combination prominently in its anti-inflammatory herbal medication. 

Rhodiola: a tonic herb (adaptogen) with hundreds of years of traditional use, Rhodiola rosea helps to relieve chronic pain conditions because of the positive way it balances neurotransmitters in the brain. It is also helpful to improve overall energy and relieve depression. 

Chamomile: (which by the way can be pronounced with the last syllable rhyming with “mile” or “meal” by my dictionary sources) With a long history of safe use even in children in the herbal medicine traditions of Europe and Latin America (where it is known as manzanilla), chamomile has been studied and found to be effective in relieving some symptoms of infant colic, and as expected also can calm troubled tummies in older children and adults. For those frequent stomach pains and indigestion, please reach for some strong chamomile tea instead of the acid blockers that are so inexplicably popular these days.

DGL: since we are talking about stomach pains, now here’s a serious herbal medication for you. DGL stands for Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (no wonder they call it DGL). The glycyrrhizin in the licorice as it naturally occurs can cause high blood pressure and low potassium if used in high doses for long, so that component is removed for this medical application. But once that’s done, what a great option you have for stomach problems. Stomach ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux alike can respond to DGL; even aphthous ulcers of the mouth are likely to improve when you chew this herbal medication and let it stay in the mouth a bit.Licorice root alone has other wonderful medicinal properties as long as used under the direction of a physician skilled in herbal medicine.

Feverfew: This is one of my most frequent recommendations when looking for herbal pain relief from migraine headaches. Not likely to relieve a full-blown migraine, but there are some studies affirming the possibility that this herbal medication may decrease the frequency and severity of migraine headaches.

Butterbur (Petadolex): Another friend to migraine sufferers, Butterbur also works to decrease the frequency of migraines and their severity, and some reports even suggest it can work to abort a migraine in progress. Now wouldn’t that be good news? Just make sure you get the butterbur brands with all the toxic pyrrolizidin alkaloids (PA’s) removed; these all natural substances may cause liver damage or liver cancer. The brand I recommend is Petadolex, assured that the purification process before it comes to market is right.

Peppermint: this well known and familiar herb comes to your aid for herbal pain relief in two ways at least. First is its use in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A dose of enteric coated peppermint oil between meals three times daily has been studied rigorously and shown to be effective in decreasing the cramping and pain of IBS. And in what is perhaps an even more aesthetically pleasing herbal remedy, peppermint can be used to relieve tension headaches. Take a large serving of dried peppermint leaves, immerse in boiling water to make an infusion (tea); after steeping, pour the whole mixture over ice in a large bowl or pan. Soak a washcloth in the chilled peppermint infusion, wring it out and lay it over the eyes and forehead of the headache sufferer. Resting with the cold peppermint compress is as sure as anything I know of to relieve a tension headache. Cool!

Capsaicin: Now for a hot solution to a nerve pain problem. This herbal pain relief solution has been known and acknowledged for so long that it is a part of standard treatment by MD’s in Neurology treating neuropathic pain, especially the foot discomfort of diabetic neuropathy. Capsaicin is the ingredient hot peppers that confers their spicy hot taste. When applied topically to the skin, it over time decreases the pain of neuropathy. Safely. Just don’t put your fingers near your eyes after applying any hot pepper extracts.

There are more excellent options for herbal pain relief, but this is a good start with wide ranging application, covering many of the conditions I see most commonly in the practice of holistic medicine. My brief caution to you is this: pain is sometimes a signal of a serious underlying disorder, and must not be ignored. If you are not sure of the reason for pain and have not had it evaluated by a professional, do not self-medicate with herbal medications or other remedies. In addition, there are times when herbal remedies interact with prescription medications or other herbs, so consult a professional regarding their use. This brief overview is meant as information only and not as the provision of medical advice. And at the least, I hope I have given you a sense as to why I believe that herbal pain relief is often a better and safer option than some medications.


To your health and wellness,




Robert Pendergrast, MD 

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