A growing body of evidence suggests that some complementary approaches may help to manage some painful conditions, according to an overview recently published by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).
Among other topics, NCCIH covers:
A 2016 evaluation of the research on herbal products for low-back pain found evidence that cayenne (Capsicum annuum
), administered topically (applied to the skin) can reduce pain. Two other herbal products used topically, comfrey (Symphytum officinale
L.) and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia
) essential oil, and two herbs used orally, white willow bark (Salix alba
L.) and devil’s claw (Harpagophytum spp.
), may also be helpful, but the evidence for these herbs is not as strong as that for cayenne.
Dietary supplements containing the herb thunder god vine (Tripterygium wilfordii
) may help relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is classified as effective for preventing migraines in guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society. These guidelines also classify feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), magnesium, and riboflavin as probably effective, and coenzyme Q10 as possibly effective for preventing migraines.
The small amount of research on peppermint (Mentha x piperita) oil suggests that at least some formulations might be helpful for irritable bowel symptoms (IBS).
Probiotics may be helpful for irritable bowel syndrome, but it’s still uncertain which types of probiotics are most likely to be effective and which symptoms they may relieve.
There’s some evidence that cannabis (Cannabis sativa) or marijuana-based medicines (i.e., cannabinoids) may be helpful for chronic nerve (neuropathic) pain and perhaps other types of chronic pain, but it’s unclear whether the potential benefits are greater than the potential harms. Further research is needed that meets U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements for determining the safety and efficacy of cannabinoids for the management of pain.
It’s unclear whether kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) has an effect on chronic pain because of a lack of studies of this substance in people.