Joint pain can be caused by many different things, from arthritis to bursitis to injury. Even certain diseases like mumps, hepatitis, and the flu can cause troubling joint pain. And with six different types of moveable joints in your body, you’ve got a lot of potential pain points. Whatever the cause or the location, the result greatly impacts your ability to perform throughout the day.
OTC or even prescription medications can help to relieve joint pain, but they come with troubling side effects and can interact with other medications you may take. It’s always best to start with the least invasive method of pain management first and work your way up to the harder stuff if necessary. Luckily, there are several natural herbs that can effectively block joint pain without causing unwanted side effects.
Following are five of the most commonly available herbs that can soothe painful joints. But first, we take a look at the bodily process that actually causes joint pain. (Hint: it points to our bodies’ tendency to take protective actions too far.) Stick with us to the end and you’ll be well-armed with natural analgesics, both topical and oral, that can straight-up improve your quality of life. Many of these may already be hanging out in your pantry.
The Driver of Joint Pain: Inflammation
Inflammation is a complex process that can be both harmful and helpful. It is the body’s response to infection or injury and attempts to isolate the damaged part of the body from other healthy areas. That response is critical to fighting off foreign invaders. Inflammation is a key component of healing – think of the inflammation you experience after exercise. The result is that your muscles rebuild stronger than ever.
However, chronic inflammation is associated with almost every disease known to man. When left unchecked, inflammation causes more problems than it solves, including crippling joint pain. That’s why popular OTC medications, notably ibuprofen, do more for inflammation than for the pain itself. The following herbs are known to reduce inflammation and swelling, thereby relieving suffering.
1. Aloe Vera
You probably have some aloe vera in your cabinets somewhere and reach for it any time you or a loved one has a sunburn. It is also popular for treating small skin abrasions. But aloe can do so much more! It contains more than 75 potentially active components, including aloin and emodin, which act as analgesics to relieve pain. Aloe also contains several powerful anti-inflammatory compounds.
There are a couple of ways that you can use aloe to soothe joint pain. The first is the standard topical application, massaged into the painful areas. Look for aloe gel that has been certified by the International Aloe Science Council. Some generic brands contain little actual aloe, or have had the active ingredients damaged by processing.
Second, you can find and take an aloe supplement orally. A capsule is quick and easy to take, but you can also buy pure aloe vera juice that has a mild flavor and integrates nicely into smoothies or shakes. Please note that people who take diabetes medications, stimulant laxatives, or diuretic medications should speak to their doctors before ingesting aloe.
Eucalyptus is a well-known topical analgesic that is incorporated into all kinds of creams and ointments for joint pain. It has that strong menthol smell that we tend to associate with pain relief treatments, and research indicates that even smelling eucalyptus in the form of an essential oil can relieve discomfort.
The leaves of the eucalyptus plant contain tannins, which are thought to reduce swelling and the pain of inflammation. If you have never used eucalyptus before, please test for allergies before using the product widely. Simply apply a small amount on your forearm and watch for any negative reaction, such as a rash or hives. If nothing happens within 24 to 48 hours, you should be clear to apply eucalyptus to your painful joints.
In traditional Chinese medicine, ginger is given to increase blood circulation, which has a beneficial effect on healing in enflamed areas. Ginger is also thought to improve blood sugar levels, protect against heart disease, lower bad cholesterol, strengthen brain function, and even reduce the risk of developing cancer. Yep, ginger does all that PLUS it tackles inflammation and reduces pain.
The active ingredient in ginger is called gingerol, which has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities. Early studies related to the use of ginger in patients with rheumatoid arthritis are very promising, and research is ongoing into the pain relieving benefits of this potent herb. Ginger can be used fresh, dried, powdered, or in oil form. Most people enjoy the flavor of ginger, but feel free to use a capsule supplement if you want the benefits without the taste.
4. Green Tea
Green tea is one of the healthiest beverages you can choose, for lots of reasons. From improving brain function to boosting fat burning, green tea improves general wellness. It is also a strong anti-inflammatory and has been shown to greatly benefit people with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Most folks simply brew and enjoy green tea, but you can also take it in the form of a tablet or tincture. A green tea concentrate allows you to add green tea flavor to all sorts of foods. And conversely, you can feel free to add other inflammation-reducing herbs to your mug of green tea, such as ginger or aloe.
Turmeric is the orangey-yellow spice used to make curry. More than just a pleasant flavor, turmeric has been used in folk medicine for a very long time. Scientists now understand that the active ingredient in turmeric, called curcumin, has anti-inflammatory properties.
Recent studies on rats have found that turmeric has the potential to slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. The National Center for Complementary & Integrative Health suggests that turmeric/curcumin is most effective when eaten as opposed to applied topically. But that’s okay, because it tastes great in all sorts of dishes. If you don’t like the flavor, curcumin capsules serve just as well.
Herbs that are known to reduce inflammation are fantastic natural remedies for joint pain. They help curtail the body’s overactive immune response without causing more problems in the form of nasty side effects. Some are best when used topically, such as eucalyptus, but most can be integrated naturally into your diet on a daily basis and even doubled up, such as green tea and ginger.
An anti-inflammatory regimen that relies on natural herbs is very likely to reduce dependence on OTC and prescription medications, which can only improve your quality of life. And remember, all of the herbs we’ve discussed have multiple health benefits beyond pain relief. You have nothing to lose by trying!