5 Surprising Natural Painkillers: Boswellia, Turmeric, and More

Source: www.healthline.com

Medically reviewed by Monisha Bhanote MD, FCAP, ABOIM, CCMS, YMTS — Written by James Roland — Updated on April 4, 2022

Natural pain relief

If you have a toothache, backache, or any other type of pain, your first impulse may be to reach for a pain medication.

Many people rely on medications, but they can come with a risk of side effects, drug interactions, and sometimes misuse.

While certain circumstances may require a prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication, it may also be possible to find some of the relief you need from a variety of natural pain relievers. Many herbs and spices have a long history of being used to relieve inflammation and pain.

These natural pain relievers fall under a category of treatment known as alternative medicine, which also includes acupuncture, yoga, reiki, and other practices.

There can be a lot of benefits to easing pain and inflammation more naturally, but keep in mind that these natural remedies can occasionally interfere with other medications you are taking.

Furthermore, some natural pain relievers have not been well studied in humans (especially when it comes to dosage), and many supplements are not tested by an independent lab to ensure quality or safety. Supplements are also not regulated for quality by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) like drugs are.

If you’re dealing with pain or chronic issues, it’s best to talk with a doctor before buying any natural remedies. Integrative medicine professionals, which are physicians who have training in more natural remedies, may be a great option if you’re seeking alternative forms of pain therapy.

It’s also important to consult a qualified health professional before adding any supplements to your routine, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking other medications.

Boswellia

Boswellia, otherwise known as frankincense, is often used in Ayurvedic medicine. The resin from Boswellia serrata trees is what is typically turned into tinctures, pills, or topical treatments.

What is it used to treat?

Boswellia is often used to treat:

  • asthma symptoms
  • arthritis
  • colitis (inflamed colon)
  • general inflammation
  • reduction of fluid cerebral edema (brain swelling)
  • reduction of skin damage due to radiotherapy

A 2020 studyTrusted Source involving 545 people found that Boswellia was an effective, safe treatment for osteoarthritis (OA), easing pain and stiffness.

Possible side effects:

While Boswellia is generally safe, topical application can cause an allergic reaction in some people. It may also negatively interact with certain medications, including anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs.

If you’re taking one of these drugs, Boswellia extract may increase the possibility of bleeding.

Turmeric

Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its signature yellow hue and unique flavor.

It contains the compound curcumin, an antioxidant that helps protectTrusted Source the body from free radical molecules that can damage cells. It has also been well studied for its ability to ease swelling and reduce inflammation.

Though most commonly used as a spice, turmeric is also available in supplement form and is often paired with piperine, a compound found in black pepper, to increase its absorption.

What is it used to treat?

Turmeric may be useful for the treatment of many conditions, including:

  • indigestion
  • ulcers
  • stomach upset
  • psoriasis
  • inflammation caused by conditions like OA

Possible side effects

Though turmeric is generally considered safe, several side effects have been reported.

Some of the most common side effects include:

  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • headaches
  • rashes
  • yellow stool

Be sure to talk with a doctor before using turmeric supplements. Stop using them if you experience any negative side effects.

Cloves

Whole cloves are often used to spice up meat and rice dishes. Ground cloves are used in pies and many other foods.

Cloves are also widely used as a natural pain reliever due to their content of eugenol, a natural pain reliever that’s also used in some OTC pain rubs.

Cloves can be found in capsule or powder form. Clove oil is also available and can be applied topically to reduce pain.

What is it used to treat?

Clove is often used to treat a wide range of conditions, such as:

  • nausea
  • colds
  • headaches
  • arthritic inflammation
  • toothaches
  • indigestion
  • diarrhea

Some research also suggests that clove could be used to treat fungal infections, but more high quality studies in humans are needed.

Possible side effects

When used as a supplement, cloves may be associated with side effects such as:

  • liver problems
  • allergic reactions
  • skin irritation
  • increased bleeding

Though clove oil can be applied topically to treat issues such as toothache pain, undiluted clove oil may actually hurt your gums, so be sure to talk with a dentist before trying it at home.

People with bleeding disorders or those who are taking blood-thinning medication should also be careful when consuming clove products, as clove and clove oil can increase the risk of bleeding.

For this reason, it’s important to consult a doctor before using herbal supplements that contain clove.

Acupuncture

This ancient Chinese medical practice seeks to relieve pain by balancing the body’s natural energy pathways. The flow of energy is known as qi (pronounced “chee”).

For this practice, acupuncturists insert tiny, thin needles into your skin. The location of the insertion is related to the source of the pain. Based on the qi, a needle may be inserted far from the part of the body experiencing pain.

Acupuncture may relieve pain by causing the body to release serotonin, a “feel-good” brain chemical that eases pain. It is also believed to reduce stress levels and promote healing in the body.

What is it used to treat?

Acupuncture may help provide relief from several types of pain, including:

  • knee OA
  • migraine
  • myofascial pain
  • acute and chronic low back pain
  • fibromyalgia
  • neck pain

Possible side effects

Acupuncture may be linked to several potential side effects.

Some of the most common side effects include:

  • organ, tissue, or nerve injury
  • infections
  • allergic reactions
  • increased bleeding
  • loss of consciousness

To make sure it’s safe for you, talk with a doctor before trying acupuncture if you:

  • have a pacemaker
  • are pregnant
  • have bleeding disorders
  • use blood thinners, such as warfarin

Heat and ice

Among the most common home pain remedies is applying heat and ice directly to sites of pain. While this treatment may seem obvious, not everyone is clear on exactly when to use ice versus heat.

Applying an ice pack to reduce swelling and inflammation shortly after you experience a strained muscle, tendon, or ligament may bring relief.

Interestingly, once the inflammation has decreased, heat may help reduce the stiffness that comes with sprains and strains.

A heating pad or cold pack used briefly on the head may also help reduce the pain of a headache, while an ice pack can help relieve low back pain.

If your painful problem is arthritis, moist heat applied to the affected joint will help more than ice. Moist heat packs can be warmed in the microwave and used many times, making them effective and easy to use.

What is it used to treat?

Applying an ice pack may help treat issues like:

  • swelling
  • bleeding
  • inflammation
  • headaches
  • low back pain
  • strained muscles, tendons, or ligaments

Meanwhile, applying heat can provide relief from conditions such as:

  • joint stiffness
  • muscle spasms
  • arthritis
  • headaches

Possible side effects

Applying heat or ice to an injury for too long could increase the risk of burns and other side effects.

Some of the most common side effects of heat or cold therapy include:

  • burns
  • ice burns or frostbite
  • numbness
  • itchiness
  • pain
  • blisters

If you get injured or experience chronic pain, talk with a doctor or pharmacist about how to best use heat or ice to help ease the pain.

Be careful when managing pain

The natural pain relievers described above may only be effective for specific causes of pain and may not work for everyone.

However, these natural options may at least give you a few options to try, either alone or paired with prescription or OTC medications.

Remember, pain is the body’s signal that something is wrong. It may be temporary, as with a strained muscle, but it may also signify a serious health problem that requires medical treatment.

Don’t hesitate to seek out a healthcare professional to diagnose the source of your pain and discuss the best options for treating it.

Additionally, always talk with a doctor or pharmacist before using any supplements or herbal products, especially if you have any health conditions or are taking other medications.