Over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen are effective pain relievers, but long-term use can cause side effects. Prescription medications may be addictive and have even more adverse effects. What are the best natural ways to relieve pain?
People have used essential oils, herbs, and alternative therapies as natural pain relievers for hundreds of years.
Researchers have not fully explored these options, but some evidence suggests that certain remedies can help, and that many people find them useful.
In this article, we discuss 12 natural pain relievers and the science behind them. Read on to learn how to manage pain naturally without relying on over-the-counter pain medication.
1. Lavender essential oil
Inhaling lavender essential oil may help relieve pain and anxiety.
Lavender essential oil may help relieve pain naturally. People use lavender oil for pain relief, to help sleep, and to ease anxiety.
A small-scale 2012 study found that inhaling lavender oil may relieve pain associated with migraine headaches compared with a placebo.
Some research also suggests that lavender oil has pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects in animals.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not currently regulate essential oil ingredients and dosages, so use them with caution. Always talk to a doctor before using any new essential oils.
Do not ingest essential oils, as they can be toxic. If applying an oil topically, always dilute it in a carrier oil. Learn more about carrier oils here.
People can choose from a range of lavender essential oils online.
2. Rosemary essential oil
Rosemary is another essential oil that may relieve pain.
Some researchers state that the rosemary plant, Rosmarinus officinalis L., may help treat headache, muscle and bone pain, and seizures. Rosemary may also reduce inflammation, relax smooth muscles, and boost memory.
Dilute essential oils in a carrier oil such as olive oil. Use three to five drops of essential oil for each ounce of carrier oil.
The researchers suggest that the herb acts on receptors in the brain called opioid receptors, which are involved with the sensation of pain. A 2013 clinical trial found that rosemary oil reduced pain in people experiencing opium withdrawal.
People can choose from a range of rosemary essential oils online.
3. Peppermint essential oil
Peppermint oil comes from the Mentha piperita L. plant.
Some research suggests that the peppermint plant has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and pain-relieving effects. The active compounds in peppermint oil include carvacrol, menthol, and limonene.
People often use diluted peppermint essential oil as a topical treatment, meaning that they rub diluted oil into the area that feels achy or painful.
One 2015 review notes that people have traditionally used peppermint to relieve painful spasms and problems associated with arthritis.
The researchers also report that applying peppermint oil to the temples and forehead may relieve tension headache pain.
Avoid putting peppermint oil on broken skin. It can cause allergic reactions, so do a spot test before using peppermint oil on a painful area. Do not use peppermint oil around children.
People can choose from a range of peppermint oils online.
4. Eucalyptus essential oil
The final essential oil on this list of natural ways to relieve pain is eucalyptus oil. This herbal remedy from the Eucalyptus plant may help reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation in the body.
One 2013 study found that inhaling eucalyptus oil relieved pain compared with almond oil. Participants inhaled eucalyptus oil for 30 minutes per day for 3 days. They were all recovering from knee replacement surgery.
Do not use eucalyptus oil around children or pets. Eucalyptus can trigger asthma. It is important to dilute it in a carrier oil before applying topically.
Also, so not diffuse eucalyptus in public. Eucalyptus essential oil is toxic if a person swallows it. Do a spot check to be sure that the skin is not going to react to eucalyptus applied topically.
People can choose from a range of eucalyptus essential oils online.
People have traditionally used cloves, from the Eugenia caryophyllata plant, as a home remedy to relieve pain from toothache.
A 2006 study found clove gel to be as effective as benzocaine gel, which is a topical gel that dentists often use to reduce needle pain.
The researchers applied clove, benzocaine gel, or a placebo to the inside of the participants’ mouths. They reported lower levels of pain with both clove and benzocaine gels, but not with placebos.
More research is needed to see how effectively cloves could relieve other sorts of pain.
Researchers also believe that clove can have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antiviral activity.
People can choose from a range of clove oils online.
People also use capsaicin, present in chili peppers, for natural pain relief. This substance can cause a mild burning or tingling sensation when a person applies it topically.
A 2011 study notes the important role that capsaicin topical creams and patches play in pain management. Many pain-relieving products contain capsaicin.
Researchers are not yet sure why it relieves pain, but some believe that it reduces the skin’s sensitivity to pain by working on the nociceptor fibers. These are nerves that carry pain signals.
People can find a range of capsaicin creams online.
Eating ginger may accelerate recovery and reduce inflammation after exercise.
Ginger, or Zingiber officinale, is a root that shows promise as a natural pain reliever.
A 2015 systematic review found that ingesting 2 grams of ginger per day modestly reduced muscle pain from resistance exercise and running when people took it for at least 5 days.
The researchers also suggest that ginger may accelerate recovery and reduce inflammation related to exercise.
Try including ginger in the diet by adding raw ginger to smoothies or teas. People can also use ginger supplements, which are available in health stores and online. However, the natural, fresh ingredient may be more healthful.
Always talk to a doctor before taking any new supplement. Dietary supplements can have side effects and may interact with existing medication.
Feverfew, also called featherfew or bachelor’s buttons, is a medicinal plant. Traditional uses include treating fever, migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, toothaches, and stomach aches, as well as increasing breast milk.
Feverfew contains compounds that may reduce inflammation and muscle spasms. Some researchers believe that the key active compounds include sesquiterpene lactones and flavonoids.
The American Migraine Foundation state that there are mixed results about how effective feverfew is, but that it is probably helpful for preventing migraine headaches.
A 2011 research review concludes that feverfew flowers and leaves have analgesic, or pain-relieving, properties.
Feverfew can cause side effects such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and increased risk of bleeding. So, it is important to talk to a doctor before trying feverfew.
Curcuma, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, has pain-relieving qualities.
A small-scale 2014 study found that curcuma extract is as effective as ibuprofen for pain management in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis when a person takes it for 4 weeks.
Turmeric is also a common herbal remedy for reducing inflammation. To include turmeric in its natural form in the diet, try adding it to curries, smoothies, or juices.
People can also buy turmeric supplements online.
Acupuncture is an alternative therapy that advocates believe can help reduce pain. Recent research supports these beliefs.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) state that acupuncture can help with certain types of pain, including:
- low back pain
- neck pain
- osteoarthritis or knee pain
It may also reduce how frequently people get tension headaches and could help prevent migraine headaches.
A 2018 meta-analysis found that acupuncture is an effective way to manage chronic pain. The researchers concluded that acupuncture could help with musculoskeletal pain, headache, and pain associated with osteoarthritis.
More research into the effects of acupuncture for other pain conditions is now needed, but increasing evidence is suggesting that acupuncture is effective for many types of pain.
In fact, acupuncture may help in more than 100 different conditions.
Practicing yoga may help with back and neck pain.
Yoga is a physical meditation practice that may offer a way to manage pain naturally.
Managing back pain often includes stretching and physical therapy. Yoga provides this.
It incorporates breathing exercises, self-care, and relaxation methods, so practicing yoga may also relieve pain related to stress or anxiety.
A 2013 study found that yoga may improve low back pain.
The NCCIH state that yoga may help relieve low back pain and neck pain, but that there is not enough evidence that it can help for other conditions, such as headache, arthritis, or fibromyalgia.
12. Mindfulness meditation
People experiencing chronic pain are increasingly turning to mindfulness meditation as a natural treatment. More research is needed, but initial studies are promising.
A 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis looked at 38 studies and eventually concluded that mindfulness meditation can improve pain symptoms, depression, and quality of life. However, the authors say that larger studies are needed to see exactly how effective it is.
Benefits of natural methods
While many people use pain relief medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen with no problems, people who experience side effects can try using natural pain relievers. These include herbal remedies and traditional practices such as yoga and acupuncture.
One 2016 review links long-term acetaminophen use to an increased risk of heart attacks, bleeding in the digestive system, and impaired kidney function.
Meanwhile, some research suggests that long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen increases the risk of stomach ulcers, kidney failure, and stroke.
Some traditional remedies, such as yoga, mindfulness, and acupuncture, can also benefit a person’s mental health.
Herbal remedies could provide other health benefits alongside pain-relieving effects, such as having antioxidant effects to help keep the body healthy.
When to see a doctor
Natural pain relievers may not be as effective for all types of pain. They may not offer relief when pain is more severe. When this is the case, a person can add them to other pain management approaches to enhance the effect.
Anyone with severe pain, including pain related to an existing health condition, should speak to their doctor. They can advise how best to manage this.
Also, if a person starts experiencing pain and does not know the cause, they should see their doctor. They will diagnose and treat the condition that is causing the pain.
When a person takes traditional pain relief medication as prescribed, with guidance from a doctor, it is a safe and effective way to manage pain.
Natural pain relievers, however, offer an alternative for people who want to avoid the long-term side effects of pain relief medication.
People can use essential oils by adding a few drops to a tissue or a steam bath and inhaling the vapor. People can also add the herbs and spices listed above to food. However, if a person is unable to do that, they can instead take them as supplements.
Mindfulness is easy to try at home. Many people may also be able to try yoga at home, for which there are many introductory videos available online.
To try acupuncture, it is best to visit a professional, certified practitioner.
Not every natural pain reliever will work for everyone. Some people may find that a natural option that works well for them in the long-term. Others may not be able to manage pain naturally and may prefer traditional medication.