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6 ways to tackle chronic pain

YHL speaks to the experts to find out some natural ways to beat chronic pain

According to research from the British Pain Society, chronic pain affects more than two fifths of the UK population, which equates to around 28 million adults.

“Chronic pain is a type of pain that lasts more than three months,” explains Dr Amy Hoover, a physiotherapist at P.volve ( “It can occur in any part of your body. This type of pain is different from acute pain, which occurs and then goes away after your body heals from whatever caused the initial pain. Chronic pain is often unrelated to an injury or continues to be persistent long after the injury has healed.” Some examples of chronic pain include migraines, arthritis, pelvic pain and the muscle pain associated with fibromyalgia.

“Chronic pain is wearing, and can have an effect on mental health,” adds Heidi Nisbett (BSc Hons), MNIMH, of Billericay Herbal Medicine ( “This can be due to disturbed sleep, pain stopping us from living life, or simply because being in constant discomfort can be exhausting in itself.”

Conventional treatments for chronic pain tend to focus on medication, but there are many natural options available to those wanting to take a different route. Here are our experts’ tips.

1 Follow a plant-based diet

“The most common root cause of chronic pain is inflammation,” says Rohini Bajekal, nutritionist (MA Oxon, MSc Nutrition and Food Sciences, Dip IBLM) at Plant Based Health Professionals ( “A wholefood plant-based diet consisting of whole grains, beans, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices has been shown to help with certain chronic pain conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis. One mechanism for this may be the anti-inflammatory properties of the micronutrients present in plant foods. A plant-based diet also significantly reduces one’s risk of developing the most common chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and several cancers.

Studies show joint pain is strongly associated with body weight and plant-based diets are associated with a healthy body weight. Healthy plant-based diets are typically lower in fat and higher in fibre, which can help decrease pain, swelling and inflammation. Diets high in ultra-processed foods and animal foods such as processed and red meat may increase oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Remember to supplement with B12 on a plant-based diet and consider vitamin D, especially if you do not get much sun exposure.”

2 Try some aromatherapy

“Aromatherapy refers to the medicinal or therapeutic use of essential oils absorbed through the skin or olfactory system,” explains Natasha Garbawi, founder of SUN.DAY of London. ( “Although many claims have been made relating to the benefits of aromatherapy, most research has focused on its use to manage depression, anxiety, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, nausea, and pain. Some studies suggest that olfactory stimulation related to aromatherapy can result in immediate reduction in pain, as well as changing physiological parameters such as pulse, blood pressure, skin temperature, and brain activity.

Aromatherapy is most commonly applied topically, or through inhalation. When applied topically, the oil is usually added to a carrier oil and used for massage. Essential oils can be inhaled through a humidifier or in an oil burner and clean burning natural candles and diffusers.

Eucalyptus oil is an aromatherapy favourite which can promote an analgesic (pain relieving) effect in the joints and muscles. It is anti-inflammatory.

Ginger oil is renowned for its anti-inflammatory benefits; it can help to alleviate headaches and migraines as well as nausea.

Lavender oil is known as the star of aromatherapy. One clinical review of lavender oil indicates that it can help alleviate headaches and muscle pain. Such benefits may transfer to back pain as well.”

Sources: the US National Library of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health and the London Pain Clinic.

3 Add spice to your food

“Try adding spices to your diet as these are particularly rich in antioxidants,” says Rohini Bajekal. “Some studies have suggested turmeric may lower arthritis pain and ease pain in ulcerative colitis. Pair turmeric with black pepper (which contains the compound piperine) to improve absorption of curcumin, one of the active ingredients in turmeric. Turmeric is best consumed in its whole form rather than as a supplement. Fresh or dried turmeric can be added to lentil dal, stews, soups and even to plant milk lattes. In fact, turmeric milk is a traditional Indian home remedy. It is a good idea to work with a qualified nutritionist or dietitian for guidance when making dietary changes.”

4 Take some CBD

“CBD (Cannabidiol) is a chemical compound that is extracted from the cannabis plant,” explains Dr Naomi Newman-Beinart (PhD), a chartered psychologist and chronic pain expert working with CBD brand i-cann ( “It does not have psychoactive properties, and so is an appealing option for people looking for pain relief. Research shows that CBD can be a natural solution to help to reduce pain across a number of pain conditions, including MS, fibromyalgia, arthritis, headaches and back pain, to name a few. It is thought that CBD interacts with our endocannabinoid system (ECS) leading to reduced inflammation, which in turn may relieve pain. The ECS was identified around 30 years ago when it was found to be essential for regulating some important bodily processes including sleep, memory, appetite, pain sensation and mood. The ECS does this by releasing natural endocannabinoids, or neurotransmitters, into the body to restore balance when a health issue develops. Do talk to your GP if you are taking any prescribed medications, as there may be interactions between CBD and certain pain medications.”

5 Consult a medical herbalist

“The beauty of herbal medicine is that we can use a blend of herbs with different actions to give relief in different ways for the many types of chronic pain,” says Heidi Nisbett. “Medical herbalists might start your blend of herbs with anti-inflammatories and analgesics (painkillers) and then add extra herbs according to the condition. For example, inflammatory arthritis (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis or axial spondyloarthritis) is an autoimmune condition, so we can use herbs to modulate the immune system. With headaches that start from tension in the neck and shoulders, we can add herbs like the aptly-named cramp bark that are antispasmodic and help release that cramping feeling.

Some chronic pain, for example from fibromyalgia, or complex regional pain syndrome, doesn’t have an obvious cause. Depending on the type of pain, it can help to improve circulation to the joints and to the extremities, using circulatory stimulant herbs like prickly ash. This type of pain often responds to herbs that are specific for nerve pain.

What makes the pain worse? If it’s stress, we can discuss practical ways of dealing with this; and yes, use herbs! Sometimes hormones can aggravate pain: in conditions such as endometriosis, medical herbalists would add herbs to balance the hormones. Migraines can be triggered at certain times of the menstrual cycle, and again, hormone balancing herbs can help.

What can you do at home? Ginger is anti-inflammatory and can affect how the nervous system processes pain. It can ease nausea caused by pain, or by medication, and is antispasmodic so useful for cramps. Fresh ginger is easy to get: just grate a teaspoonful and pour boiling water over it or buy ginger teabags. Obtain professional advice if you are taking blood thinners or have any digestive issues such as peptic ulcers."

6 Understand your pain

“Many times, when we experience chronic pain, our bodies get stuck in a fight or flight response,” explains Dr Amy Hoover, “and we may inadvertently contribute to the pain cycle by muscle guarding or avoiding movements which may actually help. Physiotherapists can help identify specific impairments in your body that may be contributing to your chronic pain, and provide education, manual therapy and prescribe exercises or strategies to help alleviate your symptoms. Many times, practising strategies to help calm the nervous system paired with specific movements will significantly reduce pain and allow you to move and function better. Strategies to help with chronic pain are meditation, mind/body calming or autonomic calming, controlled movements and stretches, exercise and proper nutrition. Heat and cold therapy may help temporarily alleviate symptoms of muscle and joint pain. Understanding your pain also goes a long way in helping to manage it, so education is very important for those suffering from chronic pain. We know that pain is in our brain, in our central nervous system. We need to address our mindset and understanding of pain in order to improve overall pain levels and pain thresholds.”

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