I was chatting with a friend and he told me something very profound, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice.”
While that’s not true in all circumstances, it is certainly a nice sentiment.
Thanks to both modern medicine and time-tested natural remedies, we have options when it comes to pain relief.
But you have to decide:
- internal or topical?
- natural or synthetic?
Today, we want to help you better understand your options by providing a guide to natural topical pain relief.
But before you can find an effective solution, you have to first understand the problem (in this case, pain.)
How Does Pain Start and Progress?
Simple put, pain is a distressing feeling that is usually caused by an intense or damaging stimuli.
The assessment and treatment of pain greatly depends on how it is classified. There are several ways to classify pain:
This type of pain refers to the normal response to injury within bones, joints, tendons, muscles, skin and visceral organs.
Neuropathic pain is caused by a disease or lesion that primarily affects the somatosensory nervous system. Examples or diseases that can cause this type of pain include:
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Post-stroke pain
- Discomfort in a non-existent (amputated) limb
- Injury to the spinal cord
This is the most common type of pain and is caused by the activation of pain mediators at tissue sites where inflammation has occurred.
These pain mediators in inflammation include proinflammatory cytokines, free radicals, and several other factors.
Diseases which present this type of pain include appendicitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and rheumatoid arthritis among countless others.
Whatever the cause may be, pain can be broadly categorized as mild, moderate or severe on a scale of 0 to 10.
The progression and duration of pain is then further classified as either acute (less than 3 months) or chronic (more than 3 months).
So ultimately, pain occurs as a result of either tissue damage, direct injury to the nerves, or the inflammatory process.
We feel it thanks to the offending agent that generates a stimulus, which is then transmitted via pain nerve fibers called C fibers.
As the signal travels to the brain, a set of neurotransmitters aid in the transmission. The primary neurotransmitter for pain is known as Substance P.
So when we talk about pain relief, we’re identifying an agent that does one of the following things:
- Treats an underlying disease that causes nerve damage
- Blocks C fibers
- Antagonizes “Substance P” at the receptor level
- Inhibits the release of inflammatory mediators of pain (this is where non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs - NSAIDs - usually come into play)
This can be achieved through either internal or topical pain relievers. For the sake of this article, we’ll focus mostly on topical pain relief.
How Topical Pain Relievers Work
Topical pain relievers work chiefly as anti-inflammatory medications. In most cases, they inhibit the release of inflammatory mediators of inflammation.
This mechanism of action enables them to not only relieve pain, but also prevent pain that is characteristic of inflammatory conditions.
Some creams are also capable of blocking impulse transmissions along the nerves in addition to their ability to block inflammatory mediators.
However, topical pain relievers are not “cures.”
They only provide symptomatic relief. So if your pain is chronic or caused by an underlying disease, you will have to treat the disease simultaneously.
Depending on how they work, topical pain relievers can be categorized into 4 primary groups:
1. Counter Irritants
Just like the name suggests, counter irritants cause a burning or cooling sensation that’s designed to distract you from whatever pain you’re experiencing.
The effects of these topical remedies are immediate, though not long lasting. Counter irritants are made using ingredients such as menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus oil.
Salicylates work more like aspirin and contain the same constituents and quality of pain relief like aspirin.
Salicylates work by blocking the transmission of pain signals via nerve impulses.
3. Capsaicin-Based Relievers
Capsaicin is derived from chili pepper seeds. Its effectiveness is best seen in the treatment of nerve pain due to things like diabetes and joint pain.
The one downside to using capsaicin creams is that their onset of action is delayed. Sometimes they require multiple applications before achieving significant relief.
4. Cannabis and Homeopathic Creams
CBD oils and creams are growing popular thanks to their pain-relieving benefits.
Because it is fairly new, the data on its effectiveness is not conclusive. Studies are still being done to validate its use, though people who have used it for pain have reported significant benefits.
On the other hand, homeopathic creams have been around for centuries, usually consisting of active herbal ingredients like arnica.
Benefits of Using Natural Topical Pain Relief
When you’re in pain, you just want to end it as fast as possible. But before you choose a pain reliever, you have to decide which path to take - natural or synthetic.
Natural and synthetic pain relievers differ in more ways than one.
For instance, most people consider natural remedies to be generally safer than synthetic solutions.
There is some truth in that sentiment as most synthetic remedies contain additional ingredients which may cause an effect other than what was intended.
And in some cases, such effects can be harmful - perhaps even worse than the original problem being addressed.
Here are some potential disadvantages and side effects of synthetic pain relievers:
- They often contain chemicals that irritate sensitive skin: Synthetic pain relief creams use chemical additives to make the product shelf stable, to prevent clumping, to preserve its texture, to achieve a certain color, etc. Unfortunately, these additives can be problematic for some people.
- NSAIDs can damage gut lining: NSAIDs alter the normal turnover of cells that line the gut, leading to irritation and often stomach ulcers.
For some people, prescription or over-the-counter pain relievers are just what the doctor ordered. But for others, equally beneficial pain relief can be achieved through natural means.
One of the best ways to relieve pain naturally is with certain herbs.
Best Topical Herbs to Relieve Pain Naturally
These natural pain relievers are what you can use instead of aspirin, NSAIDs, and chemically based ointments and creams.
1. Cayenne Pepper
The active ingredient that works for pain in cayenne pepper is capsaicin. It actively stimulates blood circulation, regulates temperature, and helps in desensitizing nerve endings.
When applied to the affected part of the body, cayenne pepper works by depleting the neurotransmitter “Substance P” in that region.
2. St. John’s Wort
This natural remedy has been used for centuries to treat nerve pain. It has potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties.
This study published in 2010 validates the use of St. John’s Wort in natural pain management.
Arnica is mostly used in the management of bruises and sprains. It is commonly found in many herbal and homeopathic creams nowadays.
This study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine revealed the effectiveness of homeopathic arnica in the topical management of bruises and pain.
Other placebo controlled clinical trials such as this one published in 1998 have well documented the efficacy of arnica when used as a topical remedy for pain.
Peppermint manages pain using three key mechanisms: analgesic effects, anti-inflammatory properties, and antispasmodic benefits.
It is one of the most common natural remedies for muscle spasms and cramps that not only alleviates pain but also works to stop cramps and spasms.
Any of these herbs, or a mixture of them all, can help relieve pain naturally in many cases. If you're struggling with an achy back, stiff joints, or sore muscles, try our all-natural Banja Balm. It features all of the herbs discussed above plus more to help you achieve relief quickly and naturally.