With muscle and joint pain, the cure can often be even worse than the condition.
Reason: Common pain relievers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - such as over-the-counter ibuprofen (Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) and aspirin, as well as prescription oxaprozin (Daypro) and controversial celecoxib Celebrex)—have many potentially serious side effects. NSAIDs may…
- Cause nausea, vomiting, heartburn and gastrointestinal ulcers.
- Compromise immunity by interfering with the body's natural anti-inflammatory chemicals.
- Thin the blood, increasing the risk for excessive bleeding.
- Raise blood pressure.
- Lead to kidney or liver failure.
Much safer: Natural nutritional supplements and topical treatments can reduce chronic or acute pain in muscles and joints. The remedies below are available without a prescription at health food stores and/or online. (As a general precaution, do not use while pregnant or breastfeeding. The suggested brands are examples from among many good options.
Chronic Pain: Supplements
Nutritional supplements won't provide a quick fix-but when taken daily, they may help relieve persistent pain caused by osteoarthritis (gradual erosion of the cartilage that cushions joints), rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disorder that causes chronic joint inflammation) or an old injury.
You can use any one, two, three or more of the following supplements. Often several are sold together in a combination formula. You may need to use trial-and-error to determine which are most effective for you.
Best: Before starting supplement therapy, it is wise to consult a naturopathic or holistic doctor for usage and dosage guidelines based on your individual sensitivities and symptoms.
If pain is mild, start with the low end of the suggested dosage ranges below to see if you get sufficient relief. For more severe symptoms, start low and work up to the higher end of the ranges if necessary. Dosages may vary by manufacturer, so follow instructions on labels.
Some supplements may cause mild stomach upset and/or gassiness. To minimize this, take with meals and/or cut back the dosage.
Important: Consult your doctor before using supplements if you have any medical problems, such as diabetes or digestive disorders...or if you are taking an antibiotic, a blood thinner, or medication to control blood sugar or blood pressure.
Supplements to try…
- Boswellia, a resinous plant related to frankincense, blocks production of chemicals that cause pain and swelling.
Recommended brand: Nature's Way Boswellia (801-489-1500, www.naturesway.com), $13.99 for 60 307-milligram (mg tablets.
Dosage: One tablet three times daily.
- Bromelain, from pineapples, has enzymes that improve circulation and reduce inflammation.
Recommended brand: Thorne Research M.F. Bromelain (800-228-1966, www.thorne, com), $25.55 for 60 500-mg capsules.
Dosage: 500 mg to 1,000 mg three times per day.
- Glucosamine sulfate is derived mainly from crustacean shells. Molecularly, it is similar to a natural compound in the human body called glycosamine glycans, which is a building block for bones, ligaments and tendons.
Recommended brand: Tyler's Glucosamine Sulfate (800-277-9861, www.bouseofnutrition. com), $40.30 for 120 500-mg capsules.
Dosage: One capsule three times daily.
- Harpagophytum (devil's claw), from the sesame family, is an anti-inflammatory and a pain reliever
Recommended brand: Nature's Way Devil's Claw (801-489-1500, www.naturesway.com), $17.99 for 90 960-mg capsules
Dosage: One capsule twice daily.
- Turmeric (curcuma), the main spice used in curry, limits activity of inflammatory enzymes. Do not supplement with turmeric if you have an ulcer or a problem with your gallbladder or bile duct-it can exacerbate these conditions.
Recommended brand: Gaia Herbs Turmeric Supreme (800-831-7780, www.gaiaherbs. com), $2799 for 60 capsules, each equivalent to 2,500 mg of turmeric.
Dosage: One capsule once or twice daily.
- Vitamin D, which the body synthesizes from sunlight, also is found in fish, eggs and fortified milk. Correcting a deficiency can alleviate musculoskeletal pain. Good brands are available at drugstores and health food stores.
Dosage: 1,000 international units (U) to 2,000 IU per day of vitamin D-3 (cholecalciferol), the most active form.
Acute Pain: Topicals
Oils, ointments and soaks provide quick relief from the pain of muscle strains and arthritis flareups. For mild discomfort, try any one of the remedies below...for severe pain, use two or more. Do not use on broken skin or take internally. If skin irritation develops, discontinue use.
- Arnica, from a daisy-like plant, improves blood flow and reduces inflammation.
To use: For stiff, aching pain, rub a palmful onto the sore area two to three times daily.
Recommended brand: Gaia Herbs Arnica Oil (800-831-7780, www.gaiaherbs.com), $10.99 for one ounce.
- Castor oil comes from the castor bean plant. Used topically, it helps blood cells function properly...combats autoimmune diseases ...and relieves pain and inflammation.
To use: Just rub a palmful onto skin of the affected area (it can be messy, so you might want to do it at bedtime).
Recommended brand: Frontier Natural Products Co-op Castor Oil (800-669-3275, www. frontiercoop.com), $16.09 for 32 ounces.
- Epsom salts contain magnesium sulfate, which fights infection and inflammation and relaxes muscles.
To use: Fill a basin or bathtub with comfortably hot water, and mix in the desired amount of Epsom salts. The stronger you make the mixture, the more effective it is-try two to three cups of salts per tub of water. Soak the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes once or twice daily, then rinse if desired.
Recommended brand: TheraSoak from Saltworks (800-353-7258, www.saltworks.us), $8.39 for a five-pound bag.
- Heat rub. Topical pain relievers (Bengay, Icy Hot) contain organic compounds, such as camphor, menthol and/or methyl salicylate. They work by creating a feeling of heat that overrides the nerves' transmission of pain.
To use: Products are available as ointments, creams or skin patches. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for the amount and frequency of use.
Warning: Methyl salicylate is toxic if used in excess. Do not exceed recommended dosages. Never use multiple heat rubs at once. Do not use with a heating pad or while taking medication from the salicylate family, such as aspirin or antacids.
Recommended brand: Tiger Balm Red, about $7 for four ounces, available at select drugstores and health food stores.
Painkillers May Reduce Parkinson's Risk
A study of 579 men and women found that patients who regularly took two or more pills of non-aspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil), weekly for at least one month during their lifetimes had up to a 60% lower risk for Parkinson's than those who took NSAIDs less often or never.
Theory: NSAIDs' anti-inflammatory effect may halt or slow brain-cell death, a process that often occurs in the brains of Parkinson's patients. More research is needed before NSAIDs can be recommended to prevent Parkinson's.