Pain Relief: Pill or Pantry?

by Peter Delaney, Acupuncturist, Naturopath and Senior Practitioner.

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Pain is one of those things that affects everyone at some point in their life.

We are so often encouraged to take pain relief medication such as Panadol or aspirin without really thinking about the possible natural alternatives. I guess most people would think natural and pain relief are just not in the same world however there are some very fast pain relief solutions that are very safe and effective.

What Is Pain?

Chinese herbal medicine has for thousands of years effectively treated pain in its many forms, from headaches to backache from menstrual pain to arthritis. The basic idea around pain in Chinese medicine is “if the energy (in the acupuncture meridians) doesn’t flow then there is pain and if the energy flows then there is no pain”. This seems simple and in its essence it is simple: get the energy (qi) moving! There are many kinds of pain, menstrual pain, injury pain, headaches, stomach pain, fibromyalgia, joint pain, etc. They are all an indication that the body is out of balance, so to correct the imbalance means the pain will resolve naturally.

In Chinese medicine there are a number of techniques to get that qi moving again, these include acupuncture, cupping, gwa sha (scraping the skin) moxa, massage, liniments (e.g. Zheng Gui Shui) compresses and herbal medicine, which is the area I would like to talk about.

How Is Pain Different?

Herbal medicine is very old and very effective and in the case of pain, it is very efficient. Formulas are prescribed in relation to the type of pain someone is experiencing and that is the key to success. If the pain is sharp and stabbing and a fixed location (stagnant blood) then certain herbs are used (e.g. Peony and Licorice Formula — blood mover and smooth muscle relaxant) but if it’s a dull, aching pain which radiates then a completely different formula is used (e.g. Saussurea and Cardamom Formula a tonic for the digestive system which builds energy). The same applies to other pain, if it moves around the body, if it’s there in cold weather, hot weather, on walking, on sitting, at night, in the day etc — the list goes on. All of the different descriptions points to the type of pain and the treatments are very different for each case.

Targeting the underlying cause of the pain is the key to success in Chinese medicine and is why it gets results when other treatments fail.

Pain Treatments

The concepts of Chinese medicine once understood can be used in many ways particularly in home treatments and home remedies. Let me explain. If the pain is worse at night or in winter or if we go to the supermarket (air-conditioned) to shop, then we would use hot compresses, eat warming foods like soups and ginger and keep the area covered and warm. Doing these things is working with the body to bring harmony back and resolve the pain. It would be pointless using a cold compress in this condition as it is adding cold to the area and even if it relieved the pain short term it would lead to a longer healing process and short lived pain relief.

Look In Your Pantry

Natural anti-inflammatory things can even exist inside our own pantries. Turmeric has been given a lot of attention in recent years and has been shown to be a very effective anti-inflammatory. It is cheap, readily available, effective and good for you and it should become part of everyone’s food list. Ginger, licorice, peony (yes, the flower) and willow bark – to name a few – are all wonderful in relieving pain and relaxing the smooth muscle in painful spasms. Of course, these need to be prepared and it’s not just a matter of grabbing a licorice stick and expecting the pain to go away.

Herbs For Pain

Herbs and supplements such as magnesium and calcium are effective but tend to work when they are used in the correct ways and of course should be complimented with eating good food, drinking lots of water, exercise and having some stress management in place such as yoga, massage, me time, acupuncture, etc. There are many other prepared herbal remedies we use all the time for effective pain relief and you can read more about them here.

Remember, pain can be triggered by many things and if you are unsure of its cause then have it checked by your natural therapist or doctor.