Now that there is more and more proof that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are more dangerous than thought to be in the past, there is more reason to try alternatives to treat pain. As a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, a medicine in which there are 5,776 herbs in the Chinese Materia Medica, an herbalist’s bible, I have been prescribing herbs for over a decade for a vast array of symptoms, including pain. I feel comfortable knowing that these herbs, especially in combination with other herbs, have been used for thousands of years and proven not only effective, but safe if used correctly.
In 2015, the FDA strengthened their warning that prescription and over-the-counter versions of popular painkillers, like Advil, Aleve, and Motrin, carries a cardiac risk even for short-term use and for people with or without heart disease. Recently, after a Danish trial revealed that there is a 31% increased risk of having cardiac arrest, which is when the heart suddenly stops beating, when taking an NSAID, including ibprofen, the European Heart Journal published that these drugs should be used with caution and that people with heart problems may want to avoid them. Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States so if anyone should head this warning, it’s Americans.
Pain is not an easy thing to cope with, even for people who have a high tolerance for pain. When I was 27, a pressure cooker exploded in my face and I suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns on 11% of my body. After almost three weeks in ICU, it took a year of surgery, therapy, nerve regeneration and 24/7 burn garment apparel until I was healed on the outside. On the inside, however, post traumatic stress disorder still haunts me and can be a diagnosis that will never truly go away. After too many side effects from an opioid based prescription pain killer, I used alternative medicine, (Chinese herbs, acupuncture, and meditation) to wean off of the addictive substances and get myself, (mind, body and spirit) healthy again.
So armed with these new precautions, how can we treat our pain naturally, effectively, and without the risk of opioid addiction? Here are my top four ancient herbs with at least 2,500 years of use that can be used for acute or chronic pain. I absolutely recommend seeing a certified herbalist as each pain can be treated with different herbs and herbal combinations. Saying that, this is a good introduction to some of the most effective herbal painkillers available today.
(Yan Hu Suo, Corydalis Rhizome)
The principal pain relieving herb in the Chinese Materia Medica, (a Chinese Herbalist’s bible) this herb relieves both inflammation and nerve pain and is so potent that in the East it is used to ease the pain caused by terminal cancer. Corydalis is a relative of the Palaver Somniferous Opium Poppy but it doesn’t have the same addicting qualities as an opioid, even though it has a strong pain relieving component.
According the Materia Medica, this herb is 40% as effective as morphine and can help relieve such symptoms as menstrual pain, chest pain, abdominal pain, headaches, fatigue, and in a study done on rats (sorry PeTA!) it reduces the chances of gastric and duodenal ulcers so it’s a great remedy for epigastric pain as well.
It functions by being an acrid, bitter and warm herb that invigorates the blood and moves qi to alleviate pain. To enhance the blood invigorating properties, say for menstrual pain or headache pain due to a concussion, toast or fry the herb in vinegar. The dosage is 4.5 grams – 12 grams but unfortunately, it’s not an epicurean delight so I suggest taking it as a supplement. Avoid taking this herb during pregnancy.
(Jiang Huang, Tumeric Rhizome, Ginger Yellow)
Curcumin is the naturally occurring chemical compound found in tumeric. It’s gained huge fan fare recently for it’s anti-inflammatory effects. In Chinese herbal medicine, curcumin is considered a blood invigorating herb which is used for painful menstruation, chest or abdominal pain, pain and swelling due to trauma, and is especially good for arthritic type pain in the shoulders. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, curcumin also has anti-tumor effects in the liver.  It can be combined with cinnamon and astragalus root for shoulder pain. Some people like to put tumeric in there smoothies or use it as a spice, but to make sure you get the right amount, a supplement may be preferable.
Since most people are getting their curcumin from tumeric, here is what WebMD suggests for dosage:
For upset stomach (dyspepsia): 500 mg of turmeric four times daily.
For osteoarthritis: 500 mg twice daily of a specific turmeric extract (Meriva, Indena); 500 mg four times daily of a non-commercial product has also been used.
For rheumatoid arthritis (RA): 500mg twice daily of a specific formulation of the turmeric constituent, curcumin (BCM-95®, Arjuna Natural Extracts, India), has been used.
We use 225 mg per IN:Motion packet so using IN:Motion twice a day is within what WebMD suggests for the above conditions.
Angelicae Dahuricae Radix
Warm and spicy in flavor, this root helps to alleviate pain near the head making it useful to treat tension headaches and pre or post dental work. Much easier on the stomach and liver, this herb is a great alternative to over the counter pain relievers.
Back pain is something I have treated almost everyday for the last 15 years of my practice. In fact, 80% of Americans will experience back pain at least once in their lives. I frequently prescribe this herb in different formulas because it is a rock solid root that is traditionally used for chronic pain in the lower back, knees and muscles and is an essential herb in our potent formula in IN:Motion.
Questions about herbal pain relievers? Email me at email@example.com