What Are the Strongest Natural Pain Relievers?

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 06/20/2024

Herbal remedies have been used for centuries to decrease pain and promote healing. But what are the strongest natural pain relievers, and how effective are they compared to prescription medications?


Learn why natural pain relief is a viable alternative to prescription painkillers and discover six of the best holistic remedies to help reduce inflammation and manage chronic pain.


Man with knee pain

Natural pain relief 


Natural pain relief involves plant-based, homeopathic remedies rather than prescription drugs to alleviate pain. 


Widely known as alternative or holistic medicine, this method of pain relief uses vitamins, herbs, and essential oils to manage discomfort from injuries and chronic health conditions. 


Natural remedies are an excellent option for those looking to ease pain while avoiding common side effects associated with over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as ibuprofen or Aspirin, and prescription painkillers, including OxyContin and Vicodin. 


Common side effects of OTC and prescription pain medications include:


In severe cases, both OTC and prescription drugs can lead to misuse, drug dependence, and addiction. 


According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 130 million opioid prescriptions were filled in 2022 for pain management. The same statistics found that one in four patients prescribed painkillers for long-term treatment developed drug dependence. 


However, it’s vital to consult a healthcare professional before using herbal remedies to manage pain. Though natural methods can provide relief and reduce the risk of side effects and dependence, they can interact with other medications or cause allergic reactions.


Watch the video below to learn more about the best natural painkillers.

The 6 Best Natural Pain Killers

What are the strongest natural pain relievers?


Various nutrients and herbal remedies have pain-relieving effects and can help manage joint and muscle pain, migraine headaches, menstrual pain, and other discomforts.


Here are six strong natural pain relievers and their most common uses. 


1. Stinging nettle

Stinging nettle root is a potent anti-inflammatory herb with powerful antioxidant properties. It’s a rich source of polyphenols and carotenoids, which are plant compounds that protect against oxidative stress. 


Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals, which are unstable molecules that damage cells and tissues. This damage can lead to inflammation and trigger pain receptors.  


Stinging nettle’s ability to neutralize free radicals can help lower inflammation in aching muscles and joints associated with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. 


When taken orally or applied topically, stinging nettle may also help reduce pain and swelling associated with gout.


2. Vitamin D

Approximately 42 percent of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency, which can contribute to inflammation, weaken bone and muscle structures, and trigger musculoskeletal pain.


A study published in Pain Research and Treatment concluded, “Low vitamin D levels are implicated in various chronic pain conditions. Research has shown that vitamin D exerts anatomic, hormonal, neurological, and immunological influences on pain manifestation, thereby playing a role in chronic pain states.”


Willow bark

3. Willow bark

Willow bark is derived from willow trees and is an ancient natural remedy for pain and inflammation. It’s commonly used for mild back and neck pain, headaches, osteoarthritis pain, fever, and cold and flu symptoms. 


White willow bark contains salicin, a plant compound with pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties similar to acetylsalicylic acid, widely known as Aspirin.


“Salicin is converted into salicylic acid once ingested,” explains Dr. Berg. “Salicylic acid possesses properties that make it as effective as Aspirin in managing pain.”


4. Benfotiamine

Benfotiamine is a fat-soluble form of vitamin B1 that can be found naturally in garlic and onions or manufactured in laboratories. 


Unlike thiamine, the water-soluble form of vitamin B1, benfotiamine can enter the myelin sheath of neurons, which is a protective layer of fat and protein. 


Both oral and topical benfotiamine can help relieve neuropathic pain associated with diabetes and other conditions involving nerve damage. However, supplemental benfotiamine appears to be the most effective. 


A study published in Arzneimittelforschung found that 320 milligrams of oral benfotiamine per day effectively relieved pain in patients with peripheral diabetic neuropathy.


Frankincense resin and oil

5. Boswellia

Boswellia, also known as Indian Frankincense, is the sap of the Boswellia serrata tree, which is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine. 


Boswellia contains boswellic acid and has traditionally been used to reduce pain and inflammation. This natural painkiller has been shown to help manage symptoms of asthma, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s Disease, arthritis, and ulcerative colitis


It’s believed that boswellic acid directly inhibits the activity of enzymes that facilitate the conversion of pro-inflammatory leukotrienes. 


Research published in the European Journal of Medical Research found that six weeks of Boswellia supplementation led to an 82 percent remission rate in patients with ulcerative colitis.  


6. Ginger

Ginger, often called the natural ibuprofen, has potent antioxidant properties that can help lower inflammation and inhibit prostaglandins, which are hormone-like compounds that promote pain perception.


Research published in Phytotherapy Research found that oral supplementation and topical application of ginger effectively managed painful menstrual cramps, delayed onset muscle soreness caused by exercise, arthritis symptoms, and migraines.


Acupuncture needle therapy

More ways to relieve pain 


Besides topical and oral remedies, several physical therapies may help reduce inflammation and pain levels without the need for pharmaceutical medication.


Here are five effective strategies to relieve pain naturally. 


1. Heat therapy

Heat therapy can be performed using dry heat or moist heat. 


Dry heat therapy uses infrared saunas, hot compresses, or heating pads, while moist heat therapy involves hot baths or steam. Both types of heat therapy can help reduce pain by increasing blood flow to the affected area. 


Optimal blood flow promotes oxygen and nutrient delivery, supporting healing and loosening of muscle tension. 


Heat therapy can be highly effective for managing pain related to exercise and has been found beneficial for reducing joint pain and arthritis.


2. Acupuncture

Acupuncture, also known as needle therapy, is an ancient Chinese practice for managing musculoskeletal pain. It involves inserting thin needles into specific skin locations. 


According to traditional Chinese medicine, the body contains 12 channels, called meridians, that connect organ systems. 


When a channel in the meridian system is imbalanced or blocked, it’s believed to trigger pain and contribute to illness. Acupuncture helps open these channels and restore balance.


However, Western practitioners theorize that acupuncture helps reduce pain by stimulating localized nerves and muscles, which relieves built-up tension and stress. 


A study published in the American Family Physician found that acupuncture can benefit those with chronic lower back pain, headaches, and myofascial pain, which affects the connective tissue surrounding the muscles. 


Aromatherapy

3. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy uses plant essential oils to promote physical and emotional well-being, typically through vapor inhalation or skin application. Aromatherapy is used to reduce stress and anxiety and boost mood. 


Essential oils stimulate the olfactory system, which triggers the release of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that promote a sense of well-being and act as the body’s natural painkillers.


Research suggests that various essential oils may improve pain, including: 

  • Peppermint oil

  • Lavender essential oil

  • Rosemary oil

  • Eucalyptus essential oil 

  • Rose oil


A study published in Pain Research and Treatment found that aromatherapy is an effective natural remedy for managing pain, nausea, headaches, and other discomforts such as menstrual cramps, post-surgery pain, and even pain during labor and delivery. 


4. Breathing exercises 

Deep breathing exercises can help improve physical, mental, and emotional health. 


Taking deep and controlled breaths activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation. This can help reduce stress and muscle tension, which can contribute to pain.


5. Massage therapy

Massage therapy helps relieve tight muscles, boosts circulation, and stimulates surrounding nerves, which may inhibit transmitting pain signals to the brain.


A study published in the International Journal of Massage and Bodywork found that 30 minutes of massage therapy reduced pain levels, promoted relaxation, improved emotions, and improved the ability to sleep in hospital patients. 


Man with trapezius muscle pain

Key takeaways


Taking prescription medications for pain management can increase the risk of dependence and side effects, which has prompted many to look for natural alternatives. But what are the strongest natural pain relievers? 


Stinging nettle, vitamin D, willow bark, and benfotiamine are among the best holistic remedies for pain. Additionally, Boswellia and ginger have been shown to reduce inflammation, support healing, and alleviate discomfort. 


Therapies such as heat therapy, acupuncture, deep breathing exercises, and massage therapy can also help manage pain caused by chronic and acute health conditions.



FAQ


1. What is the strongest natural pain reliever?

Ginger root and willow bark have been found to have similar pain-relieving effects to ibuprofen and Aspirin, two popular over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers. 


Additionally, supplementation with benfotiamine has been shown to reduce discomfort associated with diabetic neuropathy. 


2. Is there anything natural that works like ibuprofen?

Yes, ginger is a natural alternative to ibuprofen. Ginger has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Indian medicine and can help reduce chronic pain and inflammation.


Ginger extracts, essential oils, capsules, tinctures, and topical applications have been found beneficial for managing arthritis and muscle pain. 


3. What is a natural anti-inflammatory for pain?

Stinging nettle root and willow bark are two natural anti-inflammatory remedies for pain. Stinging nettle contains powerful antioxidants to help manage arthritis, muscle pain, and gout. 


White willow bark contains salicin, which is converted into salicylic acid when ingested and has comparative pain-relieving effects to Aspirin. It’s commonly used for cold and flu symptoms, headaches, and mild aches and pains.


4. What is natural pain relief?

Natural pain relief refers to holistic methods used to manage pain rather than taking prescription drugs or OTC medications. 


Natural painkillers offer an alternative option for pain relief and help avoid the potential side effects of pharmaceutical drugs, such as addiction, vomiting, or dizziness.


5. What are the downsides of prescription painkillers?

Prescription painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone are highly addictive and can lead to psychological dependence. 


Opioids also have various side effects, such as constipation, nausea, respiratory depression, or drug tolerance, which require increased doses to reduce pain.



Sources


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/overdose-prevention/about/prescription-opioids 

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4427945/ 

  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10219465/ 

  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9049593/ 

  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7754412/ 

  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31305037/

  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5192342/ 

  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3091428/

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