Pain results from either injury or disease and is an important indicator of tissue damage and part of the body’s defence mechanism. Nerve impulses are sent from pain receptors in damaged tissue to the brain for interpretation. Pain can also result from damage or disease that affects the nervous system causing dysfunction of the pain perception system. Most of us will experience pain at some point as either acute pain in response to injury or more chronic pain as part of an ongoing condition.
Treatment of pain consists of reducing the perception of pain with analgesics and treating the cause of the pain. Herbal medicine offers a natural approach to pain relief particularly for chronic pain where long term use of drugs is associated with unwanted side effects. The aim of treatment with herbal medicine is to treat both the symptoms and the cause.
The analgesic action of plant-derived compounds is used in many modern analgesic drugs such as morphine from the opium poppy, atropine from the night shade family, and salicylates from poplar and birch barks. These together with the improved targeting of synthetic analgesics provide powerful pain reducing drugs.
The analgesic action of herbal medicines derived from the whole or part of the plant are relatively gentle. However the combination of compounds from a selection of herbal medicines prescribed by a Medical Herbalist can reduce pain by combining a range of actions. Herbal medicines are able to reduce pain associated with inflammation, visceral or vascular spasm and neuralgic pain by anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and nerve modifying action.
Examples of herbal medicines that reduce pain by anti-inflammatory action include ginger, turmeric, and devil’s claw. Herbs such as valerian and cramp bark can reduce pain associated with visceral muscle spasm in conditions such as IBS and cystitis and feverfew can reduce pain associated with vascular spasm in migraines. Capsicum provides topical pain relief by depleting substance P, a pain inducing chemical released by nerve receptors. Other herbs that can reduce neuropathic pain include St John’s wort, yellow jasmine, California poppy and Jamaica dogwood. Combining herbs with anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and direct nerve action can provide effective pain relief.
David Winston, the eminent American Herbalist, has shown that herbal treatment is most effective when it focuses on where the pain occurs such as back pain, headache, menstrual pain, urinary tract pain and the nature of the pain which can be sharp and stabbing, dull and throbbing or spasmodic. For example Horse Chestnut could be used to treat the dull and throbbing pain that occurs in conditions such as back pain and varicose veins where there is impaired circulation.
Another plant derived medicine that is receiving increased interest for the treatment of various types of pain including arthritic pain, muscle spasm in multiple sclerosis and general chronic pain is cannabidiol (CBD) oil derived from cannabis and hemp. CBD is one of 60 cannabinoids compounds and does not have the psychoactive properties of another cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD acts on our bodies own endocannabinoid system to provide a safe and effective way of reducing pain.
A Medical Herbalist will consider all aspects of pain relief and provide a tailored mix of herbs to treat the condition and type of pain experienced by each individual.