The Ayurvedic approach to pain management is a holistic one. When treating a patient with chronic pain, I always advise an integrated approach, and look beyond the outward pain to discover the underlying source. Very often, chronic pain is caused by an inflammatory response within the body. Ayurvedic herbal treatments are effective for healing and controlling excess inflammation. For long-term results however, such treatments must be part of an integrative approach combining diet and nutritional changes, detoxification, and therapeutic exercise.
The science of Ayurveda is based on balance. According to Ayurvedic understanding, health is based on the balance of an individuals physiology, (Doshas) digestive processes, (Agni) tissues, (Dhatus) and excretion (Malas). The person, whose soul, senses, and mind are content, is considered to be healthy. The Ayurvedic approach seeks to restore physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance, by using nutrition, yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, herbs, and supplements.
In my decades of Ayurvedic and Naturopathic practice, I have treated many patients with chronic pain issues resulting from arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, dermatitis, asthma, colitis, Crohns disease, auto-immune diseases and cancer. Many of these have benefitted from the arsenal of wonderful herbs Ayurveda offers, to control inflammation at different levels.
Inflammation is actually the bodys normal response to conditions such as infection, toxins, and trauma. Under normal conditions, once the negative event is over, the body will produce an anti-inflammatory response to restore balance. In cases of chronic pain, however, the body is not able to regulate the inflammatory response. The result is chronic imbalance and chronic pain.
There are many Ayurvedic herbs that address ongoing, excess inflammation. Among these are Salai (Boswellia serrata), proven in clinical studies to ease the pain of osteoarthritis, the priced spice turmeric (Curcuma longa), ginger (Zingiber officinale) known in Ayurveda as the universal medication, and the powerful herb Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). Taken alone or in combination with other herbs, these natural pain relievers address chronic inflammation without the serious side effects many chemical pharmaceuticals cause. What follows, is a sampling of my clinical experience using these herbs for pain relief and control.
Boswellia serrata – Salai
This herb is unrivaled as a treatment for osteoarthritis. In a 2008 double-blind, placebo controlled study, Boswellia serrata produced very rapid results in patients with osteoarthritis, many of whom were bedridden. The patients pain scores and functional abilities were markedly improved, and blood levels of cartilage-degrading enzymes decreased. In another study, all of the osteoarthritis patients treated with Boswellia reported reduced knee pain, increased knee flexion, and increased walking distance.Swelling was also considerably reduced.
In a study using dogs, Boswellia produced improvements in intermittent lameness, localized pain, and stiff gait. All the external factors that aggravate lameness, such as lameness when moving and lameness after a long rest, diminished gradually.
I have used Boswellia with great success to treat patients with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. With holistic combinations of herbal therapy, Karma detoxification, nutritional changes, and yoga, I have been able to take many patients off of prescription pain medications, including steroids.
Curcuma longa – Turmeric
My personal belief is that turmeric is responsible for the low cancer rate in India. Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, anti-microbial and hepatoprotective spice. I have used it with remarkable results in treating cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal disorders.
As a pain-reliever, turmeric is potent in treating every aspect of inflammation. Various laboratory studies have demonstrated that turmerics active principle inhibits the action of inflammatory agents, including phospholipase, lipoxygenase, cyclooxygenase 2 (Cox-2), leukotrienes, thromboxane, prostaglandins, nitric oxide, collagenase, elastase, and others.
Cox-2 inhibitors such as Celebrex and Vioxx were once touted as anti-inflammatory drugs without the side effects. However, many patients took these drugs for years before learning that they are associated with heart disease. Turmeric, on the other hand, has a much broader spectrum of anti-inflammatory activity than these drugs, without the side-effects. Turmeric has been used as a culinary spice in many areas of the world for centuries, and its safety for human consumption is well-established.
As a side-note, turmeric is a wonderful skin rejuvenator. In India, it is used in traditional wedding ceremonies to enhance the beauty of the bride and bridegroom. Twenty-five years ago, I married my beautiful wife Rekha. After we were married, she developed a bad case of acne on her face. A preparation of turmeric and neem, another Ayurvedic herb, cleared her face up completely in two months and she did not get the acne again. Again, she used turmeric with success when her skin became chapped, dry, and irritable during pregnancy.
Withania somnifera – Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is an important Ayurvedic rasayana a rejuvenating tonic that enhances longevity, and may be used over a long period of time without side effects. Clinical studies have shown Ashwagandha to relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. When the herb was given to a group of RA patients for a period of four weeks, more than half of them experienced pain relief. Some of these patients were completely free of pain and swelling after the herbal treatment.
Ashwagandha is one of the Ayurvedic herbs that offer promise as an alternative to steroids. Its naturally occurring steroidal content is much higher than that of hydrocortisone, a commonly-prescribed anti-inflammatory. I always choose Ashwagandha for patients with a need for steroids like hydrocortisone or prednisolone.Ashwagandha always comes to the rescue with flying colors, allowing such patients to reduce or eliminate their need for steroids.
Zingiber officinale Ginger
The medicinal value of Ginger is so wide-reaching it is often called the universal medicine. I remember it as Grandmas answer to everything from stomach aches to headaches and joint pain.
Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. It was studied in patients with rhematic arthritis in two clinical trials. In one, seven RA patients reported pain relief, increased joint mobility, decreased swelling and reduced morning stiffness.
The second clinical study treated 28 rheumatoid arthritis patients, 18 osteoarthritis patients, and ten patients suffering from muscular discomfort with powdered ginger at high doses over periods of up to two and a half years. Seventy-five percent of both the rheumatoid arthritis, and the osteoarthritis patients reported relief from pain and swelling. All ten patients with muscular discomfort experienced relief. The patients who took higher doses of ginger experienced the fastest results.In another study, ginger relieved migraine headache.
Comiphora mukal Guggal
In the West, guggal is best known as a cholesterol-reducer.In Ayurveda, however, it has long been used to treat inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and psoriatic arthritis.
In a recent study in southern California, 30 osteoarthritic patients, both male and female, were treated with 500 mg of guggal extract three times a day over a period of one to two months. The patients showed significant improvements in their symptoms, including pain and mood, and no side effects were observed.7
I have treated hundreds of patients with conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, poymyalgia rheumatica, fibromyalgia and asthma using above said herbs in combination with nutritional changes, exercise, yoga, meditation, and the Panch karma detox program.I have been able to take patients off medications like Methotrexate, Enbrel, and Prednisone after three to sixteen months of Ayurvedic treatment.Even though my patients show tremendous improvement, I always advise them to stick to their nutritional program and lifestyle changes to ensure a lifetime of great health.I usually use combination formulas of standardized extracts of guggal with ashwagandha, turmeric, boswellia, and ginger for a synergistic anti-inflammatory effect.
Some practitioners report skin rashes when guggal preparations are used.I have used the herb for 30 years, and none of my patients have had this problem.I believe the rashes are caused by an impurity in raw guggal, which must be removed before the herb is used.
It is my belief, and my experience confirms, that Ayurvedic herbs offer tremendous potential for treating chronic pain. News reports today are full of stories about the horrible addictive hazards of prescription pain medications like oxycontin, vicodin, and other narcotics. Non-addictive pharmaceuticals like Celebrex and Vioxx have also proven to be dangerous drugs. In light of these developments, more and more patients are turning to alternative therapies for their pain issues.
Ayurvedas comprehensive approach offers the best overall solution for chronic pain sufferers. Gentle exercise regimens, nutritional therapies, and detoxification, along with the extraordinary Ayurvedic herbs described above, provide a lifestyle makeover that can offer the chronic pain sufferer a healthy and pain-free future.
Please note: This article is purely informative and should not replace the guidance of your physician. If you suffer from an illness, you should consult a physician before taking any herbs, vitamins, minerals or enzymes. Even at the peak of health, it is best to consult a qualified practitioner before taking any dietary supplement.