How, then, can you tell if a herbal remedy is likely to be effective for relieving chronic neck pain? Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used herbs to combat neck pain and the evidence supporting (or not supporting!) their use.
The powdered root of turmeric is commonly used to relieve inflammation and pain related to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other joint conditions. A number of randomized controlled trials have found that turmeric extracts containing the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound curcumin can help relieve joint pain when used at a dose of 1-2g per day. Adding turmeric into food is unlikely to offer the benefits of a quality supplement however, as curcumin is poorly absorbed unless reduced to fine particles and carried with some oil, such as rice brain oil or olive oil. Black pepper also appears to aid absorption of this compound, as does bromelain, an anti-inflammatory enzyme derived from pineapples.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
We’ve talked about omega 3 a lot on PainNeck.com as these fatty acids have a significant amount of evidence supporting their use for joint pain and other chronic pain conditions. Long-chain omega 3 fatty acids, eicosapentanoic acid and docosahexanoic acid, compete with arachidonic acid for access to certain enzymes and in the process this reduces the production of pro-inflammatory and pro-thrombotic molecules. Omega 3 is also involved in pain signalling processing, cell membrane function, good circulation, and a variety of other things that affect overall health and nerve pain. Marine-derived omega 3, typically from fish oil or krill oil, is highly regarded as a natural source of these essential fatty acids, while algal oil is a great choice for vegans and vegetarians, and flaxseed and chia seeds offer the foundational omega 3, alpha-linolenic acid, which is then converted in the body to EPA and DHA. A dose of 2-4g of DHA and EPA a day has been shown in numerous trials to offer benefits for arthritis relief.
It might not sound like an obvious pain remedy but cat’s claw is a traditional herb used to exert anticancer, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects. This herb also stimulates the immune system and can increase phagocytosis due to it containing pentacyclic and tetracyclic alkaloids. As such, it may help fight of joint pain and benefit overall immunity, although anyone with an autoimmune illness is advised to consult their physician prior to taking this supplement as it may have adverse effects on conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and/or ankylosing spondylitis.
Relatively new to the natural pain-relief scene, avocado and soybean unsaponifiables have been found to reduce knee and hip pain and swelling, and to help in the management of blood cholesterol levels and inflammation. The sterol compounds found in these extracts were shown in at least four studies to have benefits for joint pain within 3 to 6 months of therapy at a daily dose of 300 to 600mg.
Ginger is a well-known anti-inflammatory product, with dried extracts containing a higher concentration of the active compounds called shogaols. Dietary intake of ginger is unlikely to exert any significant benefits on arthritis symptoms and so supplements are preferable, especially if ginger is combined with other anti-inflammatory and analgesic compounds.
Cetyladed fatty acids, or Celadrin, have been shown in numerous trials to act fast to relieve pain. With no adverse reactions or interactions reported for Celadrin, this natural pain relief option is ideal for those who may be unable to take other joint pain supplements. Some trials have found that Celadrin gets to work within just 30 minutes of topical application! More info on Celadrin can be found here.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Again, we’ve talked a lot about these two supplements on PainNeck.com over the last few years and the evidence just keeps stacking up to support their use. Unsurprisingly, glucosamine is thought to make up about a fifth of the sales revenue of the supplement industry and is one of the most popular joint pain relief products. Glucosamine exerts anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, helps stimulate the production of glycosaminoglycans in the joints, including chondroitin, and can, therefore, slow down joint cartilage degeneration while relieving joint pain. Taken together, chondroitin and glucosamine help to lubricate the joints and encourage joint tissue repair, with benefits for relief of neck pain caused by osteoarthritis and other conditions involving inflammation and tissue damage.
As with many of these herbal and nutritional supplements for neck pain, glucosamine and chondroitin typically need to be used for about 3 months before the full benefits are seen.
Choosing Effective and Safe Natural Pain Relief
For some people, herbal remedies for neck pain can help reduce reliance on prescription pain medications and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, but it is inadvisable to stop taking prescribed medications in favour of herbal preparations. Many of the herbal remedies touted for neck pain and other types of chronic pain have little to no evidence to support their efficacy or safety. Others are supported only by laboratory research or animal studies, which are problematic and often irrelevant for human health.
The best bet is to use supplements that have undergone randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials in human patients. Some supplements have even been tested against current treatment protocols, offering great insight into the comparative effectiveness and safety of a natural remedy to drugs like celecoxib, methotrexate or other pharmaceutical.
Holistic Pain Management
Getting accurate advice from a qualified health care practitioner is vital. Many physcians are, unfortunately, out of touch with current research on nutritional supplements, while those who know a lot about these products may not fully understand the way they can interact with diseases, illnesses, medications and other herbs and nutrients. A qualified naturopathic doctor is often a good place to start when seeking alternative neck pain relief. Ideally, such a practitioner would work with a physician, pharmacist or complete healthcare team to devise a holistic pain management programme perfectly tailored to each patient.
Unfortunately, such provision is lacking in most places, although some clinics do exist to support patients with chronic pain. Anyone who is suffering from neck pain, whether acute or chronic, should seek appropriate medical attention. Self-medicating can be dangerous, especially if herbs are used alongside medications. Before using any natural health supplements for neck pain, be sure to check with your pharmacist and/or physician to reduce the likelihood of adverse effects and interactions.