Chronic Pain and Supplements – Can they Help?
by Staff Writer
Pain can come in many forms – back pain, headaches, painful joints due to arthritis, sore, achy muscles from overuse and more. Chronic pain is often considered the most difficult type of pain to deal with due to the fact that it never really goes away. Prescription medications including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil that are used to relieve pain have side effects. In addition, some people prefer a natural approach to pain relief. Some supplements have been shown to support treatment of chronic pain. Some types of pain, especially joint pain due to arthritis, are linked with inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids, available in fish oil supplements, have anti-inflammatory properties. Some research shows that omega-3s improve pain symptoms in people with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune joint disease linked with chronic pain and joint stiffness. There was another study that demonstrated that omega-3 fish oil is an effective alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication in treating pain in patients with non-specific chronic back and neck pain.
Omega-3s aren't the only supplements that show promise for easing pain and inflammation. Curcumin, an ingredient in the spice turmeric, seems to have anti-inflammatory activity. In fact, it seems to block the same enzymes that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications do. Some research shows curcumin supplements help to reduce inflammation and joint pain in people who suffer with osteoarthritis. There are other nutritional supplements that have demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties. Investigators are currently studying the effects of ginger supplements on joint inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoporosis. Tart cherry extract also has anti-inflammatory and pain relief properties due to the fact that it may block the same enzymes that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications do. Tart cherries also lower the risk of a painful inflammatory condition called gout.
Back pain is one of the most common types of chronic pain - and a difficult one to address. A supplement called willow bark has been used since the time of Hippocrates to address pain and inflammation. It contains salicin, a compound that has properties similar to aspirin. In addition, it's a source of natural anti-inflammatory compounds that work in synergy with salicin to ease pain and relieve inflammation. A small study showed it was more effective than a placebo for relieving back pain. It may also relieve other types of pain including headache and osteoarthritis pain.
Low vitamin D levels have been linked with muscle weakness, pain and fatigue. Some, but not all research suggests that vitamin D supplements can improve non-specific musculoskeletal pain. Another study showed it may be helpful for people who suffer from chronic lower back pain. There's some thought that low vitamin D levels may be an underlying cause or aggravating factor in some cases of lower back pain.
It's best to talk to your doctor before taking a supplement for pain since some supplements can interact with medications and with each other. Pain can also be a sign of a serious health problem so always seek evaluation for unexplained pain. Once you and your doctor develop a plan, there are a number of supplements that hold promise for easing pain and inflammation without the side effects of prescription pain medications.