The conventional approach to joint pain is usually a combination of painkillers and anti-inflammatories. When joint pain is short lived due to an injury which will soon get better, this approach could suit you very well. But when the pain is an ongoing feature of your life, you could be ready to explore a safer, more natural approach.
No matter the specific cause of your joint pain – gout, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, etc, the main goal of pain treatment is to reduce the inflammation that is often causing the pain. Thankfully, we have plenty of natural DIY remedies that are very effective at doing exactly that, so let’s find out what they are.
Some essential oils are real powerhouses when it comes to combating inflammation and pain.
Chamomile essential oil comes in 2 main types – Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and German chamomile (Matricaria recutica). Roman chamomile has analgesic properties while German chamomile has both analgesic (pain relieving) and anti-inflammatory properties.
Frankincense (Boswellia Carteri)
This oil is both analgesic and anti-inflammatory. Its pain relieving properties were confirmed in a study carried out on terminal cancer patients. One group of patients received a therapeutic hand massage containing equal parts frankincense, lavender and bergamot essential oils diluted in sweet almond oil, the control group were given a hand massage with sweet almond oil alone.
The patients receiving the essential oil massage reported significantly reduced pain and depression levels compared to the group given the sweet almond oil massage.
Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia)
Lavender works to reduce inflammation and ease pain. It’s also used to lower stress and brighten mood, which is highly beneficial when you’re battling a painful condition over the long-term.
Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium)
This anti-inflammatory essential oil is particularly useful in cases where joint pain is caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
The two main types of mint essential oil are peppermint (Mentha piperita) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). When it comes to general pain relief, peppermint is a good choice because it’s both anti-inflammatory and analgesic. When you need something a little stronger, spearmint is the better choice because it has a local anesthetic effect.
Eucalyptus Blue Gum (Eucalyptus Globulus)
This oil is an anti-inflammatory and analgesic.
Researchers at St Mary’s hospital in South Korea incorporated eucalyptus essential oil in a blend designed to relieve joint pain caused by arthritis. The other oils used in the blend were lavender, marjoram, rosemary and peppermint.
Study participants reported significant decreases in both pain and depression.
Using Essential Oils
Before using any essential oil you should always dilute it to a safe strength because undiluted essential oils can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.
For most uses, a dilution of 2% is safe and effective, however a 1% dilution should be used on the elderly and on young children.
To make a 2% dilution, mix 12 drops of essential oil (or essential oil blend) with 1 ounce (30 ml) of carrier oil. A 1% dilution uses 6 drops.
Use whichever cold pressed carrier oil you prefer – sunflower, jojoba, coconut, olive, sweet almond, etc. But don’t use mineral oil – baby oil – this type of oil is derived from petroleum and it doesn’t absorb into skin.
If you would like to make the arthritis blend used by the Korean researchers, mix 2 drops of lavender, 2 drops of eucalyptus, and 1 drop each of marjoram (Origanum majorana), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and peppermint essential oils into 1 ounce of carrier oil.
Massage well into the painful area several times a day.
Capsaicin cream is readily available in pharmacies, but it’s super simple to make your own version of this effective joint pain remedy.
Capsaicin is an anti-inflammatory substance found in hot peppers. It works to reduce inflammation via its effect on 2 enzymes that are part of the inflammatory process, COX-2 and nitric oxide synthase. By inhibiting these enzymes, capsaicin reduces the swelling that leads to pain.
In addition to relieving inflammation capsaicin also has analgesic properties.
Your nerve cells contain a compound called substance P, a neurotransmitter that’s involved in the transmission of pain signals to your brain. By depleting levels of substance P, capsaicin reduces the pain sensation.
How does capsaicin reduce substance P levels?
When your skin comes into contact with capsaicin it burns, much like your mouth burns when you eat a dish containing spicy chillies. The burn isn’t painful, but it’s certainly noticeable. By using up substance P to transmit the ‘burning’ signal to your brain, capsaicin depletes the store in your nerve cells, leaving less substance P to carry other pain signals.
It usually takes a couple of days of repeated application before substance P levels drop low enough to give you the pain relieving effect that you’re looking for, and you’ll have to put up with the burning sensation while the levels drop. Once you’ve depleted the substance P levels around your painful joint, further applications shouldn’t burn, and your joint should be significantly less painful.
In one study, 70 subjects with knee pain caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis were given either low concentration (0.025%) capsaicin cream or a placebo to rub into their knees four times a day for four weeks.
At the end of the study, pain levels experienced by those with osteoarthritis had fallen by 33% while pain levels for those with rheumatoid arthritis had fallen by 57%.
The researchers concluded that capsaicin cream is a safe and effective treatment for arthritis.
When you apply capsaicin cream, you should wear gloves so that you only put the capsaicin on the part of your body that needs ‘numbing’. And do take care to keep the cream away from your eyes and mouth.
The easiest way to make capsaicin cream at home is to mix coconut oil with cayenne pepper to make a salve.
- 1 cup coconut oil (the type that’s solid at room temperature)
- 3 tablespoons cayenne pepper (this is the source of capsaicin)
- A double boiler (or a heat proof bowl or glass jar in a pan of simmering water)
- A clean jar with a lid to store your cream in.
- A whisk
- Place the coconut oil into the double boiler and wait for the oil to melt. Stir in the cayenne and continue to gently heat the mixture for 10 minutes.
- Place the mixture in the fridge to cool for 10 minutes, then whip it up with your whisk. Return to the fridge for another 10 minutes before whisking one more time.
- Transfer the mixture to your lidded jar and store in the fridge.
- Use this salve several times a day, massaging it thoroughly into your painful joint and the surrounding area.
- If you want to use an oil other than coconut oil – sunflower, grapeseed, hemp seed, olive, etc – you’ll need to add ½ cup of grated beeswax or beeswax pellets to the mix and stir until melted.
- The beeswax will solidify as it cools and thicken your salve. Without beeswax the oil will remain liquid.
Also known as Indian frankincense, boswellia is available as a dietary supplement and as a salve formulated for joint pain and swelling. Like the frankincense essential oil mentioned above, the extract used in the supplements and salve is a potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic.
In a study on knee osteoarthritis patients the pain relieving and anti-inflammatory effects of a combination of boswellia extract and curcumin were evaluated against celecoxib, a prescription non steroidal anti-inflammatory. The researchers found that the herbal remedy was more effective than the prescription drug.
In the group taking the celecoxib 86% of the patients were able to walk more than 1,000 meters. In the group taking boswellia and curcumin that percentage rose to 93%. Patients also reported less joint tenderness and pain.
Curcumin is the anti-inflammatory substance found in turmeric, the yellow spice used in Indian cooking.
Adding turmeric to your diet is a good idea for general health and wellbeing but you would need to ingest an unfeasibly large amount of turmeric to obtain a useful level of curcumin. Supplements are a much better option.
When you shop for a curcumin supplement, look for one that is formulated with piperine (black pepper extract). Curcumin by itself has a fairly low level of bioavailability, which means that your body won’t be able to absorb it very well. Piperine increases curcumins bioavaliblity.
Magnesium is known as the relaxing mineral because it relaxes muscles and calms the nerves that fire off stress and pain signals. Reports suggest that as many as 90% of western populations don’t get enough of this important mineral, and because soils are so depleted thanks to decades of poor farming techniques, you may find it a challenge to get all the magnesium you need from food sources.
Magnesium is needed for over 300 processes in the body, and magnesium deficiency is linked to numerous degenerative conditions ranging from (relatively) less serious problems like periodontal disease and constipation, to life threatening issues like cardiovascular disease.
By improving your magnesium levels you can ease joint pain and improve your overall health at the same time.
Take a magnesium supplement every day. These are available in capsules or as a powder. The type of magnesium you take is important because some form of magnesium don’t absorb well and won’t improve your magnesium levels.
The best forms of magnesium are magnesium citrate and magnesium orotate.
Another way to benefit from magnesium is to take a bath in it! Magnesium sulfate flakes, more commonly known as Epsom Salts, readily dissolve in water, and a soak in warm magnesium bath offers soothing relief for joint pain.
Fresh ginger root is a superb anti-inflammatory, and it tastes really good too.
A ginger root infusion is simple to make. Chop up enough ginger to yield one teaspoonful. Pop the ginger into a cup and add boiling water. Leave to steep for 10 minutes then your tea will be at a comfortable temperature to drink and the ginger will have infused into the water.
A stronger infusion can be prepared by allowing the ginger to steep overnight. Because of the longer steeping time, it makes sense to make up a larger quantity.
Place 2 ounces (50g) of chopped ginger into a quart sized canning jar, then fill the jar with boiling water. Leave to steep for 8 hours or overnight, then strain. Keep in the fridge (2-3 days shelf life) and drink as needed.
Technically an infusion uses a plant’s leaves, flowers or fruit peelings while its roots, bark and seeds are better prepared via decoction, but finely chopped ginger will infuse very well and produce an effective anti-inflammatory brew.
To make the flavor more interesting, or to ‘dilute’ the flavor if you aren’t a fan of ginger, you can drop a fruit or herbal tea bag into the cup along with the ginger root. From personal experience, peppermint, lemon, red berries (raspberry, strawberry, cherry) and grapefruit all blend superbly with ginger and make a tasty cup of tea.
A second way to extract ginger’s anti-inflammatory magic is via decoction. This is another simple process, but it takes a little longer to prepare. When you make a decoction, you extract even more of the medicinal properties of the ginger and produce a more concentrated tea.
A decoction will keep in the fridge for 3 days.
You can make as much or as little of this decoction as you want to, following these proportions – for each ounce (25 grams) of ginger root use 3 cups (750 ml) of water.
Bring the ingredients to a slow boil and heat until the volume of liquid has reduced by one half. Allow to cool, then store in the fridge.
Take from one tablespoon to one cup several times a day depending on your pain levels.
Another anti-inflammatory decoction you might like to try is made in the same way but with the addition of bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves. These ingredients contain tannins which have a drying effect in the body and help to reduce inflammation. This recipe has a much spicier flavor and can taste bitter. A little honey makes it more palatable.
- Ginger root 4 – 5 inches long
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 20 bay leaves
- 40 whole cloves
- 4 quarts water
Bring the ingredients to a slow boil and continue to heat until the liquid has reduced by half. Strain then store in the fridge.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is known as one of the healthiest oils around, and with good reason.
EVOO improves cardiovascular health, helps to regulate blood sugar levels and insulin secretion, improves bone health and reduces risk of fractures, and early research indicates that it may have cancer protective properties.
Most importantly for those with joint pain, EVOO contains potent anti-inflammatories that work along the same pathways used by non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Non steroidal anti-inflammatories are now known to carry certain risks – heart attack and stroke being 2 of the most worrying ones – and these risks are present with even relatively short term use. The FDA strengthened its warnings about these drugs – both prescription and over-the-counter – in 2015.
Extra virgin olive oil carries none of the risks associated with NSAIDs and it has the added benefit of making a tasty addition to salads or lightly cooked vegetables.
Research has shown that taking one tablespoon of EVOO per day brings about a significant reduction in inflammation in the body, and taking larger amounts increases this anti-inflammatory response.
One study found that taking 1.5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil had the same anti-inflammatory effect as 200 mg of the NSAID ibuprofen.
The key to success with EVOO is to buy the highest quality oil you can find. Unfortunately many EVOO’s on sale are not the real thing, with around 69% of oils not coming up to scratch according to a study carried out by the University of California.
Olive oil brands that did meet the standards set for EVOO’s include Kirkland Organic, McEvoy Ranch Organic and California Olive Ranch.
Juniper Berry Tea
Juniper berries contain a substance called terpinen-4-ol which has a suppressing effect on the type of white blood cells involved in causing inflammation. When taken regularly, juniper berry tea may help to keep joint inflammation under control.
To make juniper berry tea you will need:
- 1 cup of boiling water
- 1 tablespoon dried juniper berries
Place the berries into a cup and pour on the boiling water. Leave to steep for 20 minutes, then strain and drink. Sweeten with organic honey if needed.
Juniper berry isn’t safe to take while pregnant.
Hot and Cold Packs
Placing alternating hot and cold packs on your joints is a very simple, yet surprisingly effective method for relieving pain and inflammation..
For the hot pack you can use a gel pack or a wheat bag, or you can simply soak a washcloth in water that’s as hot as you can stand (but not scalding) and then squeeze out some of the water before placing it over your painful joint.
Leave the hot pack in place for twenty minutes., the follow with a cold pack.
Your cold pack can be a gel pack, a bag of frozen peas or ice, a chilled can of soft drink, or a washcloth soaked in ice water.
Use the hot and cold packs daily for best results.
White Willow Bark
Willow bark is the original source of aspirin and can make a useful pain reliever without any of aspirin’s side effects.
The bark contains salicin which your body converts into salicylic acid, and it’s this substance which acts to stop pain.
White willow bark is available as a supplement, and as a loose herb that you can brew into a tea.
To make pain relieving white willow bark tea add 2 teaspoons of ground or chipped willow bark to a pan containing 1 cup of boiling water. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes before removing from the heat and allowing the tea to steep for another half hour.
Add lemon or honey to improve the bitter taste.
Drink twice a day.
Hopefully, by using one or more of these joint pain remedies, you’ll experience a significant reduction in discomfort plus a welcome increase in joint mobility, and be able to get on with enjoying your life once more.