Topical treatments: One potential concern with dietary supplements is that some may interfere with medications you’ve been prescribed to treat back pain or other health conditions. For this reason, Grossman suggests topical treatments: “Gels and creams can be very helpful and won't interfere with supplements or medications,” she explains. “They're generally inexpensive, too.”
You never want to put a heating pad on top of the topical product after it’s on your skin. It can cause skin irritation and possible burns. If you apply a lotion or gel having methyl salicylate, do not start exercising. Your body can absorb too much of it from your increased blood circulation and that’s not good. Do not put on areas such as broken skin, rashes, dermatitis, eczema, or irritated area. Pregnant and breastfeed women should not use topical pain relievers without consulting their doctor. Babies should not use these products, nor young children.
Products that create a feeling of heat on the skin can also help relieve discomfort by distracting you from pain signals. The Sombra Warm Therapy Natural Pain Relieving Gel provides controlled warming to ease conditions like arthritis, bursitis, fibromyalgia, or even a simple backache. The gel quickly absorbs into the skin and won’t stain clothing. It’s also free of artificial colors, fragrances or alcohol.
Herbal therapies: “When back spasms are so strong you can barely move from the bed,” Grossman says, she suggests the homeopathic medicine Bryonia; when you have soreness after overexertion, she uses Arnica. Keep in mind, there’s little scientific evidence that herbals such as Bryonia and Arnica are effective treatments for back pain; though, a study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine in 2016 suggested they might help to reduce chronic low back pain from arthritis when combined with physical therapy.
As I write in this month’s Harvard Men’s Health Watch, these so-called topical analgesics work best for more superficial joints like the knees, ankles, feet, elbows, and hands. “In those areas, the medication can penetrate closer to the joint,” says Dr. Rosalyn Nguyen, a clinical instructor in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School.
I am a science writer, former massage therapist, and I was the assistant editor at ScienceBasedMedicine.org for several years. I have had my share of injuries and pain challenges as a runner and ultimate player. My wife and I live in downtown Vancouver, Canada. See my full bio and qualifications, or my blog, Writerly. You might run into me on Facebook or Twitter.
Chronic pain is a modern day epidemic that affects more than 1.5 billion people worldwide. It costs nations billions of dollars in lost productivity and medical expenses every year. Debilitating pain effects more individuals than heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined. Doctors throw drug after drug at these pain syndromes with very little long-term success. Here are some of the best natural agents to reduce pain.
"My go-to muscle soothing product is Topricin Pain Relief Cream ($17; topicrin.com) as it is a combination of 11 homeopathic ingredients proven to be safe for your skin. I typically apply it to my lower back (where I've had trauma) before I go running and again before bed. I'm a believer!" —Kira Stokes, creator of The Stoked Method (Try her 30-day plank challenge to score tighter abs, faster.)
It is a natural product which has been effectively used in the treatment of bone and muscle pain, in painful abnormalities resulting from spinal cord compression and as an analgesic medication following surgical interventions. It contains essential oils, alkaloid arnicine, glycosides, flavones, carotenes, mucilages and magnesia. Its main property is that it increases local blood flow due to its rubefacient effect, and its ability to relieve pain and improve muscle and nerve weakness. It is therefore very widely used for contusions, bumps, bruises, sprains, rheumatism, lower back pain, varicose veins, haemorrhoids and muscle pain.
Capsaicin creams are another topical option for pain relief. These contain the active component in chili peppers that cause a burning sensation. I know its sounds like this would cause more pain, but in fact the low levels of capsaicin in these creams block pain by temporarily depleting the nerves of certain chemicals that transmit pain impulses. Application of this cream three times daily was shown to significantly improve pain scores for fibromyalgia in one study done in Spain.
Low back pain and neck pain often involve a substantial amount of muscle pain,22 and muscle pain is not particularly inflammatory by nature. Muscle knots (trigger points) are more like poisoned muscle than injured muscle. Although there’s some anecdotal evidence that taking an anti-inflammatory medication reduces muscle pain, mostly it doesn’t seem to work very well. One of the classic signs of low back pain powered by muscle, for instance, is that ibuprofen doesn’t have much effect!
If you find yourself snacking at night before bed, it may be because you're bored or anxious — not truly hungry — and eating makes you feel better. Try eating a healthy dinner a bit later in the evening. If your stomach is truly growling before bed, try a protein-based snack like a hard-boiled egg or a slice of cheese. A few spoonfuls of yogurt or some fruit is another good option.
The active ingredient in cloves is eugenol, a natural pain reliever that’s also used in some OTC pain rubs. Rubbing a tiny amount of clove oil on your gums may temporarily ease toothache pain until you can get to a dentist. But too much undiluted clove oil may actually hurt your gums, so discuss this approach with your dentist before trying it at home.