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At Rebalance Physical Therapy, one of the most discussed topics in the clinic with our patients is their pain.  While Ibuprofen and other NSAIDS like naproxen or aspirin are options for treating pain and inflammation, they are not without their side effects.  Over the last 2 decades, some natural alternatives are becoming more widely discussed as treatment options.  As always, we recommend that you discuss these options with your doctor.  With natural alternatives to manage pain, there can be health benefits that extend beyond pain management, however, it’s important to know how these alternatives may affect you based on your own medical history and co-existing medical conditions. It’s also important to remember that supplements work best with the combination of a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress management, and good sleep hygiene.  Here are a few alternatives to consider if you experience chronic or reoccurring pain:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids is something that can help with inflammation that can cause pain. In 2006, the NIH and Maroon et al compared Omega 3 fatty acids as an alternative to anti-inflammatories.  The results showed that 59% of patients discontinued NSAID use and 60% of patients reported their pain as overall improved.  60% of the patients with reported joint pain saw improvement in their pain, 80% reported satisfaction with their pain improvement, and 88% reported that they would continue to take fish oil.  Omega 3 supplements are available in liquid or capsule form. You can also increase your intake of omega-3s simply by eating more oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, and tuna, as well as dark leafy greens. Talk with your health care provider about your proper dosage because higher doses of omega-3s can increase the risk for bleeding and may interfere with any blood-thinning medications you may be taking.

Turmeric

Turmeric has many wonderful anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have supported its use in reducing joint pain.  One study compared its use to diclofenac, a common NSAID, for osteoarthritis pain with results that are equivalent to the diclofenac. This spice, which is commonly used in Indian dishes, can be taken as a powder in capsules, mixed in tea, or taken as a liquid extract.  The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCAAM) reports that turmeric is considered safe for most adults, but prolonged use could cause stomach upset. As a dietary supplement, it is not recommended for those with gall bladder disease.  It can also be a blood thinner and pregnant women should consult their practitioner about taking this as a supplement. 

Vitamin D

If you have back pain, a vitamin D deficiency could be contributing to your pain. A study published in Pain Physician in 2013 found that severe pain was associated with a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in people with lumbar spinal stenosis, a condition with lower back pain as a symptom.  Simple blood work and your doctor can help you determine what your vitamin D levels are and how Vitamin D should be dosed based on your unique health needs.  Sunlight exposure and vitamin D-fortified foods are also sources of vitamin D, but supplements may be the most effective way to consistently address a deficiency.

Devil’s Claw

This extract comes from a native African plant Harpagophytum procumbens. A daily dose of 50 mg of harpagoside, which is an active ingredient in devil’s claw, can reduce pain flare-ups in chronic low back pain according to Dr. Navid Farahmand, MD, an interventional pain management physician with the Brain and Spine Institute of California.  The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database reports that devils claw may be effective for reducing back pain because its chemicals may decrease the inflammation and swelling that can cause pain. The supplement is marketed in several different formulas—when deciding which one to try, look for harpagoside among the top active ingredients on the nutrition label.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are both compounds that occur naturally in the body. Glucosamine is found in the fluid around joints and chondroitin is found in the cartilage surrounding joints, according to the U.S. National Library of MedicineNavid Farahmand, MD, reports that studies have supported its use to reduce knee pain.

If you suffer from reoccurring, chronic pain, consider some of the natural alternatives we’ve discussed here. As mentioned above, consulting with your doctor is the best way to determine if natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals would be a good option for you.

Written by Stephanie Muntzer, MPT, PYT, RYT200, CPI, SFMA, FMSc

References: 

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/curcumin-for-arthritis-does-it-really-work-2019111218290

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/turmeric-may-be-as-effective-as-ibuprofen-for-relieving-arthritic-knee-pain-emb-2pm#Turmeric-considered-safe,-but-the-dose-matters

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