The best herbs for pain relief and pain management during labor
This week I’d like to continue with the awesome pain series that was started on our last post here. Let’s talk about some of the best herbs for pain relief for chronic conditions and how we can manage pain during labor. We are fortunate to have the amazing ob/gyn physician Dr. Jennifer Lincoln talking to us about pain management during labor and Dr. Richa Mittal, an internal medicine physician specializing in obesity medicine, who will be talking to us natural herbal therapies that can help with pain management.
Now, let’s get the conversation going with Dr. Mittal as we talk about managing pain with herbs.
What are some of the best herbs for pain relief?
When people suffer from chronic pain, they often seek out natural remedies. Along with traditional therapies, many herbs have been studied, although many of the studies are small in size.
The objective of these trials has been to help assess whether certain herbs can play a role in reducing inflammation and help with pain. Now, if you do decide to take an herbal supplement, always notify your doctor. Some of these can interact with traditional drug therapies. Also, if possible, the best way to get these substances is in their most natural form, through the food you eat!
Many herbs and foods have been studied. Here, we will discuss the use of curcuma longa (turmeric), ginger and capsaicin in treating pain. These are some of the best herbs for pain relief.
Curcuma longa (turmeric)
Curcuma longa (turmeric) extract has been studied for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects. A meta-analysis of studies (using turmeric & its extracts) support the use of turmeric extract (1000 mg/day) for the treatment of arthritis.
Many small trials have found anti-inflammatory effects with turmeric. Interestingly, the active ingredient, curcumin, is only 3% of turmeric. So, to get an effective dose of curcumin, one would need to take a concentrated curcumin supplement. If you wish to get health benefits from turmeric in food, you can enhance its absorption by 2000% if eaten along with piperine!! Piperine is a substance found in black pepper. Read more about turmeric here.
The phytochemicals in ginger (the root of Zingiber officinalis) have been widely studied. They are moderately effective in the treatment for osteoarthritis. Also, they posses a good safety profile. Another study found that a topical ointment with cinnamon, ginger and sesame oil applied to the knee for arthritis was as effective as a salicylate (aspirin) ointment in terms of pain, morning stiffness and limited motion. Furthermore, ginger is effective in relieving pain from menstrual cramps. Along with treatment of pain, ginger has many health benefits. It is a great addition to food not only to add flavor, but also for an anti-inflammatory punch!
Capsaicin (the main active compound in capsicum fruits, aka peppers) has been studied extensively. This herb actually stimulates pain receptors in our nerves and then causes loss of sensation of pain. Most commonly, capsaicin for pain relief is available in the form of lotions, creams and patches. Clinical studies have shown that three to five topical skin applications per day for two to six weeks have modest beneficial effects for various pain syndromes. These include pain after having shingles (post-herpetic neuralgia), diabetic neuropathy, and chronic musculoskeletal pain.
Outside if its use in pain management, capsaicin is actively studied for its effects on metabolism, gut bacteria and obesity!
Pain management in labor
Labor hurts. Anyone who tells you otherwise hasn’t given birth before, or has blocked it out! Let’s move on to some pain management strategies helpful during labor and childbirth from Dr. Lincoln.
The good news is we have ways to help decrease labor discomfort. When it comes to managing pain, you can divide methods into two categories: pharmacologic (with medications) and non-pharmacologic.
- IV pain medications: These medications are given intravenously. In general, these are narcotic medications. They may help relieve labor discomfort, but rarely make it go away completely. They act quickly and also wear off quickly, so sometimes a woman needs multiple doses. These drugs do cross the placenta. So, your doctor will probably not want to give them if you are very close to delivery to protect your baby.
- Local anesthetic: These are numbing medicines that we inject to relieve pain in a specific area. We use this if you need a laceration repair after delivery. Another version of this is a pudendal block, where numbing medication is injected into the pudendal nerves. This may be done right before delivery. Results with this are variable.
- Nitrous oxide: Also known as “laughing gas”, nitrous oxide is making a comeback in some hospitals and birth centers in the United States. It works very quickly by inhalation. It also wears off quickly as well, so it’s thought to have a minimal effect on the baby.
- Epidural: This is when numbing medication is injected and continuously runs into the spinal area throughout labor. This drastically decreases labor pain or eliminates it completely (not always, but sometimes!). Epidurals may also be used for cesarean deliveries.
All of these methods have varying rates of success for women. For those women who want to avoid medication in labor, enrolling in a labor class that focuses specifically on these methods can be helpful. In addition, having additional support in the form of a doula can help. A woman can choose to use some or all of these throughout the course of her labor. She should be able to choose what works best for her. Women who also opt for these, but eventually want pain medication should never feel like they are giving in or giving up. Having an open mind and changing the plan is always OK!
Changing birth positions, such as using a birthing ball
Laboring in the shower or tub
Hypnobirthing (if interested, you can learn more about it here.)
So sad when it is over
There you have it, some of the best herbs for pain relief if you want to use natural remedies for managing chronic painful conditions. We also reviewed some management strategies you can use during labor and childbirth.
Hope you enjoyed! Don’t hesitate to reach out if there is a particular topic you would like discussed.
Have a great week,