Over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain—yet conventional “solutions” can cause intestinal bleeding, dependence, heart disease, and cancer. Yikes! Here’s some of what integrative medicine has to offer instead.
Drawing upon the advice of such natural health superstars as Dr. Jonathan Wright, Dr. Julian Whitaker, Dr. Robert Rowen, Dr. Frank Shallenberger, and Dr. Stephen Sinatra—as well as cutting-edge studies and the personal experiences of the ANH-USA staff—we’ve compiled the following list of natural treatments for pain.
Don’t be overwhelmed by its length—it’s meant to start the conversation between you and your integrative physician on natural alternatives for chronic pain. We encourage you to print it out, highlight a few appealing options, and discuss them with your healthcare provider:
Injection Therapies: Stimulating Your Body’s Natural Healing Mechanisms
- Prolotherapy is the injection of natural substances into chronically injured areas of the body. The injected substances themselves don’t heal, but rather stimulate cell growth in the tissues that stabilize weakened joints, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.
- Ozone therapy—a type of oxidative medicine that can also be used to treat viral and fungal infections—is the injection of oxygen gas (ozone) into affected areas. Ozone is known to deactivate bacteria, simulate oxygen metabolism, and activate the immune system.
- Oxygen therapy. Ozone molecules are composed of three oxygen atoms bound together. Oxygen molecules have two such atoms. Other forms of oxygen therapy such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT, (pressurized oxygen) may help as well by flooding wounded tissue with the oxygen it needs to repair itself.
- Prolozone therapy utilizes injections that are a combination of collagen-producing substances and ozone. As a fusion of prolotherapy and ozone therapy, it is sometimes described as a major advance on both treatments.
Traditional Approaches to Pain Management
- Acupuncture is an integrative treatment increasingly accepted by even conventional doctors. As detailed in a rigorous meta-analysis from 2012, it helps manage not only chronic pain (including fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and sports injuries), but provides relief from migraines and arthritis.
- Homeopathy: The research “gold standard” used in the drug approval process, a double blind, random-controlled trial (RCT) published in Rheumatology International, reported that those suffering from osteoarthritis felt more relief from Arnica (an herb that grows in the US and Europe) gel than ibuprofen gel. In tablet form, Arnica tablets should be taken right after an injury or before an expected one (such as a medical or dental operation). Additionally, homeopathy offers many other customized approaches to the management or elimination of pain. For example, one of our staff member’s spouses instantly eliminated trigeminal neuralgia—one of the most severe and difficult to treat forms of pain—with a homeopathic preparation.
Non-Invasive Techniques Utilizing Electricity, Magnets, Lights, Lasers, and Vibration
- TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) uses a low-voltage electrical current for pain relief. TENS is thought to “scramble” pain messages being sent to the brain, and may help the body produce its own “painkillers” (i.e., endorphins). One of our own staff successfully used the Tennant Biomodulator, which also involves an electrical current but works on a different principle than TENS and is intended to help the body repair itself, to treat a severe ankle sprain.
- Other techniques include MVT (micro-vibration therapy); PEMF (pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, such as SomaPulse); MME (magnetic molecular energizer); high intensity laser treatments; infrared light therapy (such as anodyne therapy); and sonic massage units, which use high frequency sound waves to penetrate deep into muscle tissue (e.g., the Novafon).
- Individualized physical therapy not only manages pain, but can restore function and movement. One integrative variant of traditional physical therapy is the Bowenwork therapy, a non-chiropractic muscle manipulation that helps “reset” the nervous system.
- PNT (the Kaufman pain neutralization technique) is a gentle form of chiropractic manipulation that “turns off” the nerve reflexes that perpetuate trigger points (small—yet painful—muscle knots) and muscle pain. PNT, a non-invasive technique that requires only very light pressure, is recommended by such natural health pioneers as Dr. Robert J. Rowen and Dr. Jonathan Wright.
- Exercise. When you’re in pain, increased movement may seem counterintuitive, not to mention unappealing. But as some pain is caused by nerves not being adequately supported by muscle, specific strengthening exercises can provide relief. Another “real life” example from the ANH-USA office: a staff member suffering from sciatica practiced a simple exercise recommended by a top Japanese physical therapist—kneeling and sitting back on ones heels. This movement was repeated several hundred times a day until the pain completely disappeared; relief was then maintained by a hundred repetitions a day.
- Moist heat treatments like the Thermophore. One ANH-USA staff member swears by this for relieving muscle spasm pain, especially in comparison with regular heat pads or those that require inserting a wet cloth. As the Thermophore draws moisture from the air instead of a wet cloth, it tends to be both reliable and effective.
- Sulfur-containing MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) not only provides pain and anti-inflammatory relief for osteoarthritis, but can also be effective for hay fever and other allergies. As many of us do not get enough usable sulfur in our diet, MSM is offered in powder as well as supplement form, which also facilitates the larger doses that may be necessary for pain and allergy relief.
- Tumeric, ginger, boswellia, and bromelain exhibit remarkable anti-inflammatory properties (bromelain should be taken at high doses on an empty stomach as explained at LEF.org).
- Cayenne cream reduces substance P, a chemical component of nerve cells that transmits pain signals to brain.
- Cetyl myristoleate acts as a joint lubricant and an anti-inflammatory.
- The GLA in evening primrose, black currant, and borage oils can help arthritic pain.
- A member of our staff uses the Swiss Alpine herb butterbur for headaches and migraines (which can oftentimes be a side effect of prescription drugs). It also works well for hay fever. Because a toxic element must be removed from the plant, use a reliable preparation such as Petodolex.
- Samento (a form of cat’s claw, an herb), green tea extract, and zeaxanthin (and other carotenoids) can help manage rheumatoid arthritis. Natural alternatives are particularly important, given the serious—and sometimes fatal—side effects of prescription RA treatments.
- Even if you already take fish or krill oil, higher-than-normal dosages are anti-inflammatory and may help you manage pain.
Other potential supplements for pain management include:
- niacinamide (osteoarthritis),
- enhanced delivery forms of curcumin (such as Meriva),
- green-lipped mussel,
- proteolytic enzymes,
- oligomeric proanthocyanidins,
- hyaluronic acid,
- Conolidine (derived from tree bark, it’s being studied as a potentially safe and powerful painkiller),
- DMSO (dimethylsulfoxide),
- B vitamins (particularly B6 and B12 for the management of tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and bursitis),
- black cumin seed oil,
- pomegranate extract,
- cherry juice or extract (especially for gout pain),
- avocado unsaponifiables (for joints), and
- SAM-e (recommended by Dr. Stephen Sinatra).
- Pentosan sulfate—described by Dr. Jonathan Wright—is a natural molecule derived from beech trees and an effective treatment for arthritis.
- PRP (platelet rich plasma) treatment, described by Dr. Julian Whitaker in his July 2012 Health & Healing newsletter, delivers platelets—“nature’s reservoirs” of proteins, peptides, and other compounds that facilitate healing—taken from the patient’s own blood to the point of injury.
What natural solutions do you, your integrative physicians, and your friends and family use to manage pain? Share your thoughts and experiences in our comment section below!