How to Relieve Pain Without Taking Medications That Can Wreck Your Health


If you’re one of the millions of women who experiences chronic pain, you know that it can interfere with your work, exercise, relationships, sleep — even your self-esteem and happiness as you struggle with your ability to do even basic things like work out, sleep, and travel. Whether a backache, shoulder or knee pain, regular headaches, gut pain from IBS or IBS, or even monthly pain from PMS, chronic pain is also major cause of depression and anxiety.  It’s miserable. 

As a physician, my goal is to help you relieve your suffering. Part of this means helping you to prevent the very real damage that can result from the regular use of conventional medicines. I also want to help you get to the root causes of your symptoms, not just throw medical band-aids at problems, as so many doctors are trained to do because they lack time to figure out what’s really going on, and were never taught about effective alternatives.

The Hazards of Conventional Pain Medications

While pharmaceuticals are sometimes the best temporary option for pain relief, unfortunately, when taken regularly, most common pain medications, can wreak havoc in your body, leading to more serious chronic medical problems down the road.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, are frequently given to children for fever and common aches and pains, and are taken regularly – even daily – by adults for chronic pain. Taken for even as little as 5 days in a row, these medications can cause Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS), gastritis, and even severe stomach ulcers requiring surgery. Taken for just 10 days in a row, and possibly when taken regularly, NSAIDs can impair fertility!

What you were probably never told by your doctor is that these pain medications can actually  make chronic pain worse! Medication Overuse Headache (MOH) is a known medical condition, for example, in which headaches become more frequent and severe due to regular use of medications for headache. Over-the-counter drugs such as Tylenol can cause MOH.

Narcotics use, which is on the rise in epidemic proportions, is responsible for a range of medical problems ranging from gut-damaging constipation to death. Every day in the United States at least 105 people die from accidental overdoses of properly prescribed pain medications. And for at least 10% of people taking them, narcotics  make pain substantially worse! Most think the pain is getting worse because they aren’t taking enough of the medication, so they take more. This can create a dangerous setup for overdose.

6 Steps to Getting Relief from Chronic Pain

I treat many women with chronic diseases where pain is part of their symptoms. Autoimmune conditions affecting the joints, gut problems causing digestive pain, fibromyalgia, pelvic and menstrual pain, and chronic headaches and migraines are just a few examples.

Here are the steps that I use to help my patients get relief:

1. Get to the root cause of your inflammation using functional medicine. Inflammation doesn’t just happen out of nowhere; it is a result of disruption in your immune response. Common root causes that lead to chronic pain or make it worse include:

  • Stress
  • Poor sleep
  • Structural problems from past injury or posture
  • Food intolerances, gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, or leaky gut syndrome
  • Hypothyroidism 
  • Low vitamin D and essential fatty acids
  • Adrenal overdrive or adrenal fatigue impacting cortisol and inflammation
  • An autoimmune condition (which is also really a result of underlying immune disruption)
  • Hormonal imbalances and inflammation leading to PMS or endometriosis,
  • Chronic viral (i.e, EBV) or other (i.e., Lyme disease) infection.
  • Emotional trauma, for example, if you have PTSD, can also become “stored” as memory in the body, leading to areas of pain and inflammation.
  • Depression can cause pain, and of course, being in pain is really depressing – so this is definitely something to address with supportive nutrients, counseling, and making shifts in your life.

When my patients come in with chronic pain for any of the reasons I’ve mentioned in this article, I often start with a 6-12 week 4R program to heal the gut, as disruptions in the gut can set off a whole cascade of inflammation and pain. To learn more about that, head over here and to learn more about an Elimination Diet head over here.  I also address each other area through asking specific questions to help me identify the root causes, and sometimes using appropriate testing, for example, for vitamin D levels or presence of active EBV virus.

2. Consider going off pain medications – or at least reducing your use. As I mentioned earlier, taking pain medications, including NSAIDs, can actually lead to worsened and more chronic pain. So talk with your doctor about stopping the regular use of pain medications that may actually be doing more harm than good — and may even be making your pain worse! Try lowering you pain medication dose, and spacing the doses out further, using pain medication only when absolutely necessary, and use alternatives (see below) whenever you can to keep pain under control while you’re getting to the root causes.

3. Use nutrients and herbs to reduce pain and inflammation. While you’re getting to the root causes of your pain, you’ll want herbs and supplements to help you deal with lingering pain symptoms. The ones I discuss below can be used in combination. To make it easy, look for tproducts on the market that do this for you, or purchase herbs and supplements and make your own daily combination, seeing what works best for you. Vitamin D should be checked, and I recommend at least 2000 units of Vitamin D3 daily, as well as a daily fish oil supplement if you have chronic pain.

These herbs and supplements not only directly reduce pain, they also quell the inflammation at its root, so using them daily can be healing and prevent recurrence:

  • Bromelain: an enzyme from pineapple, this be taken daily to reduce chronic inflammation and also helps with digestive symptoms. A common dose is 200-320 mg twice daily.
  • Ginger: Shown to be as effective as NSAIDs for relieving pain and inflammation, the dose is 500-1000mg, 1-2 times daily.
  • Curcumin: Relieves inflammation, the daily dose is 1200-2400 mg
  • Boswellia: From osteoarthritis to inflammatory bowel disease, this herb’s ability to reduce inflammation and pain is an important addition to supplements. A typical dose is 350 mg/day three times/day.
  • Devil’s claw: Shown to be better than conventional medications for low back pain, you want to use a product that provides 50-100 mg harpagoside, the active chemical in the herb, daily
  • Sam-E: specifically beneficial for osteoarthritis knee pain, the dose is 200-400 mg three times daily.
  • Capsaicin from hot peppers, and essential oils of wintergreen, peppermint, and lavender – all used topically – alleviate the discomforts of painful joints and headaches. They usually need to be applied at least 3 times/day to the affected area to be maximally effective.

The following herbs are purely for symptomatic pain relief. These herbs are strong non-addictive analgesics and muscle relaxants that can be used acutely as needed. Gaia Herbs and Herb Pharm both offer products containing these herbs in various combinations. They are also especially good for acute pain as with symptom flares or with your period, and also for nighttime pain.

  • Jamaican dogwood
  • Corydalis
  • Cramp bark

Ginger, cramp bark, and fish oil, as well as the topical applications, may all be used safely       during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

4. Improve your sleep. Making better sleep a priority is key to getting a handle on pain. Poor sleep and inadequate amounts of sleep increase your perception of pain – so you actually feel more pain than when you’re rested – and simultaneously reduces your ability to cope with pain, Here is an article on improving your sleep. If pain is what’s keeping you up at night, please take a look at the supplements above specifically for helping with pain at night.

5. Get bodywork for structural issues. Pain may be due to old physical injuries or emotional traumas that have caused you to hold pain and tension in your body. I have found  craniosacral and myofascial work to be powerfully effective for helping to realign the framework of the body to relieve “stuck” tension and inflammation. Massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, and physical therapy can also be helpful, as can increasing your mobility and flexibility with yoga and movement.

6. Decrease stress with even just 1 daily mindfulness practice. Examples include meditation, visualization, journaling, and one of my favorites, my De-Stress Bath. It’s simple. Add the following to bathwater as hot as you can comfortably tolerate:

  • 2 cups of Epsom salts
  • 5 drops of lavender essential oil and 5 drops of rose essential oil

Soak for about 20 minutes before bed each night, or at least a couple of nights each week to relieve stress and musculoskeletal pain, and improve your body’s detoxification abilities. Lavender relaxes the nerves and muscles, while rose calms the spirit and eases the heart.

Keep in mind, even if your pain is due to a condition that can’t be completely fixed (for example: you have an old injury that causes chronic discomfort), addressing all of the above factors can improve your pain tolerance, and ignoring these areas can make your pain worse!

Getting to the root causes of health problems generally not only improves your symptoms, but can give you a whole new lease on your total health!

I wish you ease, freedom from pain, and hope that this article can help you to feel like yourself again! 

With love,

AJR-Sig

 

 

 

 

Altman RD, Marcussen KC.Effects of a ginger extract on knee pain in patients with osteoarthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2001 Nov;44(11):2531-8.

Banno N, Akihisa T, Yasukawa K, et al. Anti-inflammatory activities of the triterpene acids from the resin of Boswellia carteri.  J Ethnopharmacol. 2006 Sep 19;107(2):249-53.

Cameron M, Gagnier JJ, Little CV, Parsons TJ, Anette Blümle A, Chrubasik S. Evidence of effectiveness of herbal medicinal products in the treatment of arthritis. Part 1: osteoarthritis. Phytother Res. 2009;23: 1497-1515.

Chandran B, Goel A. A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytother Res 2012;26:1719-25.

Gagnier JJ, van Tulder MW, Berman B, Bombardier C. Herbal medicine for low back pain: a Cochrane review. Spine. 2007; 32(1):82-92.

Kimmatkar N, Thawani V, Hingorani L, Khiyani R. Efficacy and tolerability of Boswellia serrata extract in treatment of osteoarthritis of knee–a randomized double blind placebo controlled trial. Phytomedicine. 2003 Jan;10(1):3-7.

Taylor RA, Leonard MC. Curcumin for inflammatory bowel disease: a review of human studies. Altern Med Rev. 2011 Jun;16(2):152-6.

Umar S, Umar K, Sarwar AH, et al. Boswellia serrata extract attenuates inflammatory mediators and oxidative stress in collagen induced arthritis.  Phytomedicine. 2014 May 15;21(6):847-56.

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Amber

I wish you could treat my husband. He has suffered with debilitating back pain from spinal stenosis and disk degeneration, and bulging disks for years now and I am so afraid of what all of the medications are doing to him.

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    Megan Liebmann

    Hi Amber, I am sorry to hear about your husbands back pain, not only is it hard for him, but I am sure it is hard for you to watch as well. We will continue to bring you as much information as possible, and if you have not already, Dr. Aviva suggests working with an integrative or functional doctor. For those dealing with chronic back pain, having a team of practitioners working on the case, is hugely beneficial. Megan, Aviva Romm Nutritionist

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    Megan Liebmann

    Hi Amber, I am sorry to hear about your husbands back pain, not only is it hard for him, but I am sure it is hard for you to watch as well. Dr. Aviva will continue to bring you as much information as possible, and if you are not already, working with an integrative or functional doctor could be really helpful. For those dealing with chronic back pain, having a team of practitioners working on the case, is hugely beneficial. Megan- Dr. Aviva Romm Nutritionist

    Reply

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Yvette Brownlie

Thank you so much for your website. In the world of medicine, you are a breath of fresh air! I have spent the last 8 years going to various specialists and undergoing a myriad of tests and diagnostics. The result-my chronic pain and fatigue continues. Finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I sought P.T. and chiropractic care. These have helped, but only marginally. I am so appreciative of your integrative approach to care. I am always so excited to get an update from you in my inbox as I know your approach comes from an understanding that your patients are people first, and there is always a less invasive with few or no side effects and more "in tune and balanced to enhance the natural process already present in our bodies" way to treat the health issue. I wish I could find a practitioner such as you where I live, but am so thankful you have given me(& so many others like me!) access to your wisdom, insight, and patient-centered care through our website. Please know that your efforts are making a difference. I'm guessing that I echo what many of us embrace-please keep up the excellent work! :) Blessings, Yvette Brownlie

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    Megan Liebmann

    Hi Yvette, Thank you so much for your sweet note. Know that you are loved you and Dr. Aviva's mission is to bring as MUCH health and wellness information to you. Dr. Romm is along side you in your care, even if not directly! <3 Megan, Aviva Romm Nutritionist

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Arci

Is there a way to combine several of herbs you suggest? There are so many I hate to take so many capsules. Thanks

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    Megan Liebmann

    Hi Arci, If you are not sure or you are new to herbs, Dr. Aviva suggest working with either and integrative doctor, naturopath or herbal practitioner to ensure that you are using a combination of herbs that is right for your unique body. Megan, Dr. Aviva Romm Nutritionist

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Vanessa

These steps are so helpful! I find that Lavender, specifically, helps not only with relieving stress, but improving sleep and relieving pain all at once! I also really appreciate the pain relieving benefits of alder bark ( similar to the benefits of white willow bark).

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Melissa

Hi:) Great article! My question is with acute pain in regards to children. Is it okay to give them the three herbs (tincture form) suggested? I don't like teaching for Tylenol or Motrin for my kids and I use those mentioned herbs myself. Thx!

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    aviva

    Hi Melissa, I don't usually recommend Jamaican dogwood for children under 7, and with all children use with care, as it is very strong. I'd stick to just 10 drops at a time and use for heavier pain only (i.e. migraines), and instead use cramp bark, the other herbs mentioned in the article, and consider a product in the Gaia Herbs Turmeric Supreme Pain line - and of course it all depends on the type of pain and where -- i.e. a broken arm compared to belly cramping -- that would also change which herbs one used.

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      Leslie

      Thanks Aviva for this info! One question though, I just looked at the ingredients in Turmeric Supreme Pain and noticed that Jamaican Dogwood was listed. Is this still considered safe for children. Thank you.

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        Aviva Romm

        I generally do not recommend that formula for children unless there is a reason for severe pain, and then only with an experienced pediatric herbal practitioner's close guidance. Instead I would use a gentler formula from Gaia or Herb PHarm; both companies have children's dosing on the bottles.

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Sarah

Thank you for mentioning Chiropractic care as a part of chronic pain relief. People don't often know we do more than "crack backs". I appreciate your posts and really enjoy your podcasts. Thank you!

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fray

Please recommend anything for very sever migraine pain that doesn't respond to topical essential oils. What else can be taken?

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    Megan Liebmann

    Hi Fray, Aviva has an entire article dedicated to migraines that can be found here! http://avivaromm.wpengine.com/preventing-migraines-naturally I hope this helps, Megan- Aviva Romm’s Executive Assistant and Online Nutrition Expert

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Sophie

I love love this article! I've dealing with chronic hip pain since I was 19. Thankfully they just found out the reason why, and so I'm getting some relief with physical therapy, so life is awesome. Anyways I recently went to the dentist, and the physician did some type of jaw adjustment during assessment (long story( and I got a migraine that hasn't gone away and it's been a couple of months. I just started seeing an osteopathic doctor who is doing OMM and I really think it's going to help---I'm already seeing a lot of benefit. I'm also starting the leaky gut protocol (I love that episode of NaturalMD) Anyways, I rarely rarely take NSAIDs, but these headaches have been really bad, so I have in order to enjoy a social event ect. While I'm waiting to see my osteopath, I'm wondering which herbs would be helpful. It looks like Jamaican dogwood and cramp bark would be the best, but i'm not sure about dosing for acute use. Any suggestions? Thank you for your awesome articles!!

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Sarah

How can pain be managed naturally in the case of a traumatic accident resulting in the loss of a limb?

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    Aviva

    Hi Sarah, That's a bit more complex, but there is some great work being done in Boston via the MGH pain center around pain signal reprogramming for regional pain syndrome that might be very relevant. Warmly, Aviva

    Reply