When sudden changes occur in the weather or we overexert ourselves during physical activity, those of us who experience, or who already had, muscle and/or joint pain treat ourselves with the traditional prescriptions of conventional anti-inflammatories. There is a general tendency for us to take anti-inflammatories every time something hurts, as if they were water. Nevertheless, the damage caused to our bodies (liver, stomach, etc.) by anti-inflammatories is highly significant if these are abused. Symptomatic use of analgesics, such as paracetamol, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is almost always the first treatment option, and ibuprofen is one of the most widely used anti-rheumatic drugs.
Natural remedies, on the other hand, are made from the stuff of nature. This includes leaves, twigs, berries, bark, roots, vines, vitamins and minerals. They are natural substances that can’t be regulated by the FDA because they are technically foodstuffs. If you understood herbology you could, as many traditional cultures do, adjust your diet to include the herbals in your meals. However, for painful and chronic conditions, like arthritis, this would mean at every meal. Taking these ingredients as supplements to your diet is the way to go.
Homeopathic (diluted) herbal ointments featuring Arnica are claimed to be good medicine for muscle pain, joint pain, sports injuries and bruises, but their effectiveness is questionable. Known to most customers as an “herbal” arnica cream, most actually contain only trace amounts — too little to be a chemically active ingredient. Homeopathy involves extreme dilution of ingredients, to the point of completely removing them. Some other herbal ingredients may be less diluted and more useful. However, neither homeopathic or pure herbal creams of this type have produced results better than placebo in good quality modern tests. See Does Arnica Gel Work for Pain? A detailed review of popular homeopathic (diluted) herbal creams and gels like Traumeel, used for muscle pain, joint pain, sports injuries, bruising, and post-surgical inflammation. BACK TO TEXT
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are such effective pain killers that ibuprofen gel was originally only available on prescription. They are now widely available for self purchase and much better for your health than taking the same non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers by mouth. NSAID pain relieving gels do not cause the same level of side effects as the oral versions, such as indigestion and heartburn. You do need to follow the in-pack instructions, however, and take care not to apply too much. In some cases, overuse of ibuprofen gel can increase your blood pressure.
Cold and heat therapies. It's best to use cold compresses or an ice pack, not heat, immediately following a back injury, since this can alleviate pain by numbing the area and prevent or reduce swelling. About 48 hours after the onset of back pain, though, applying heating pads or a hot-water bottle to your back may be helpful. The warmth soothes and relaxes aching muscles and increases blood flow, which helps the healing process. Keep in mind that heat therapy is only helpful for the first week.
Biofeedback. You can learn to control your body’s responses to pain triggers. In biofeedback, through sensors connected to your body, a machine will show how thoughts and actions can affect your autonomic nervous system. This controls the heart, lungs, stomach and intestines, as well as the release of stress hormones. Learning how to control breathing and heart rate will allow you to control other physical reactions, such as pain.
The good news regarding back pain is this: Most cases of lower back pain are believed to be due to “mechanical” problems of the musculoskeletal system rather than serious illness or chronic health problems. Abnormalities, weakness, and added stress placed on the bones, joints, ligaments and muscles can all contribute to back problems. It’s been found that the most common causes of low back pain (there are many!) include: (8)
The advantage of using a topical analgesic is that the medication works locally. Targeting pain more precisely using a medication applied to the skin can help skirt the side effects of oral drugs. This can be a boon for people whose stomachs are sensitive to NSAIDs. (Keep in mind that a small amount of the medicine still enters the bloodstream and ends up in the stomach and elsewhere, so a topical analgesic isn’t a guarantee against NSAID-related stomach irritation.)
I’m not saying NSAIDs are useless. They have their place. If you’re recovering from surgery or a major injury, traditional over-the-counter pain relievers are good for controlling inflammation, swelling, and pain, but NSAIDs are far too powerful for over-the-counter, everyday use. Unlike a lot of natural pain relievers, NSAIDs also don’t address the cause of inflammation or pain; they just mask the symptoms.