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Can Supplements Help With Pain?

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on October 28, 2017
From the WebMD Archives

You want your pain to stop. Some natural supplements may help. But first, you need to know what the problem is.

The best thing to do is to check with your doctor. Describe what you feel, when it happens, and how long it’s been going on.

Once you know what the cause is, you can look into all things that would help, which may include physical therapy, exercise, and diet changes, as well as supplements.

Check which supplements are good for which types of pain. Ask your doctor what’s OK for you to try. Some can affect your health or medicines that you take.

Back and Joint Discomfort

Turmeric is a root that’s part of the ginger family. It curbs inflammation, says Eva Selhub, MD, a clinical associate at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of Your Health Destiny.

You can cook with this dark yellow spice or make tea with it. Or take it in capsule form.

Devil’s claw root is an herb that may ease low back pain and common arthritis discomfort. Studies have used 30-100 milligrams of the active compound, harpagoside, per day. If you have a sensitive stomach, stick with a low dose or you might get a mild stomachache.

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Capsicum/capsaicin comes from chili peppers. A skin cream with 0.025%-0.075% capsaicin may soothe your back pain. Apply it directly to the area that hurts. Supplement pills may also help with diarrhea and cramps.

Comfrey. If you have lower or upper back pain, you could try a skin cream made with comfrey extract. Use it three times a day. Make sure that you have seen a doctor first to diagnose your pain. Back pain can have many causes, and some can be life-threatening. Comfrey can harm your liver if you take it by mouth, so don’t drink comfrey tea.

Glucosamine may help with joint pain, but the research is conflicting. Chondroitin, which is often sold with glucosamine, may ease pain and give you better joint movement. They are part of what makes up the cartilage in your body.

Many people who take glucosamine and chondroitin combine it with aspirin or other treatments. So it’s hard to say which is effective.

Give it time. It may take up to 4 months to see an improvement.

Headache

You can get a headache for many different reasons. So the best treatment is to find the root of the problem, says Kristine L. Gedroic, MD, founder of the Gedroic Center for Integrative Medicine in Morristown, NJ. Your doctor can help.

Natural remedies include:

White willow bark. “White willow is nature’s aspirin,” Selhub says. It has salicin, which tames inflammation. It’s good for headaches and may ease low back pain.

You can take it as tea or as a capsule. In research studies, people took 120-240 milligrams per day as a capsule.

Avoid high doses if you have a sensitive stomach. Willow bark should not be used in anyone under 18 because of a higher risk of a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.

Boswellia comes from the boswellia tree. It’s also known as Indian frankincense. In one study, people who often get cluster headaches had milder, less frequent headaches when they took boswellia.

Caffeine. Combining acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or other pain relievers with caffeine may work better than taking them alone for migraine headaches and tension headaches. But caffeine withdrawal is a known cause of headaches as well.

Feverfew and butterbur. These herbs may help prevent and treat migraine pain. There is some research that shows they might work, but more studies are needed.

What Else Helps

Omega-3 fatty acids. These “good fats” lower inflammation. That can help with joint pain and stiffness, back pain, and pain from menstrual cramps.

Experts recommend foods high in omega-3 fatty acids: fatty fish, canola oil, Brussels sprouts, spinach, and foods with added omega-3s like eggs. Or you can take up to 3 grams of fish oil per day as supplements, with your doctor’s permission.

Probiotics. These bacteria live in your gut and help keep you healthy. Probiotics may lessen inflammation. It may also help with irritable bowel syndrome, especially pain and bloating.

Try foods high in probiotics, like some yogurts (look for “live active cultures” on the label), kimchi, kefir, and sauerkraut. You can also take a probiotic supplement.

Arthritis Pain

If you have any type of arthritis, you should keep up with the treatments your doctor recommends. If you want to add a supplement, you might consider:

SAM-e. This is a man-made version of a chemical that your body makes. Early research suggests it may relieve arthritis symptoms as well as some medications do. You can get it in capsule form. Usually, 200 milligrams, three times a day, is used.

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Glucosamine/chondroitin. If your osteoarthritis is moderate or severe, glucosamine and chondroitin may help with pain. But the research is mixed. So ask your doctor if it’s OK for you and, if so, what dosage you should take.

Boswellia. Studies suggest this tree resin can reduce osteoarthritis pain. It may also help with rheumatoid arthritis. You can take boswellia as a capsule or tablet.

Capsaicin. Capsaicin, which gives chili peppers their fiery kick, may ease arthritis pain for a time. It comes in a skin cream, gel, or patch. Apply it three times a day, but stop using it if it irritates your skin.

Other natural aids. Avocado-soybean oil blend, cat’s claw, fish oil, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and ginger may also help with arthritis pain, but more research is needed.

Fibromyalgia

Vitamin D. If you have fibromyalgia, you may have chronic pain and low levels of vitamin D. A vitamin D supplement may improve your levels and cut your pain.

Old Injury Flaring Up?

You need to find out if it’s injured again and how to take care of it. Your doctor can help you pinpoint the cause and choose the right supplement.

WebMD Feature

Sources

SOURCES:

Kristine L. Gedroic, MD, founder, Gedroic Center for Integrative Medicine, Morristown, NJ.

Eva Selhub, MD, clinical associate, Massachusetts General Hospital.

Lampl, C. Journal of Headache Pain, February 2013.

Staiger, C. Phytotherapy Research, October 2012.

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Probiotics.”

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Joint supplements: Is there hope behind the hype?”

American Chronic Pain Association: “ACPA Resource Guide to Chronic Pain Medication & Treatment.”

Arthritis Foundation: “Backed by Science: 9 Supplements for Arthritis Symptoms.”

International Association for the Study of Pain: “Vitamin D Supplements Reduce Pain in Fibromyalgia Sufferers.”

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database: “Devil’s Claw,” “Capsicum,” “Comfrey,” “Caffeine.”

University of Maryland Medical Center: “Devil’s Claw,” “Migraine Headaches,” “Omega-3 fatty acids,” "Comfrey."

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