Relieve Aches and Pain Naturally
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Any regular gym-goer knows that their exercise habits will probably make them more accustomed to regular aches and pains. Whether you're dealing with a workout-induced injury or plain-old DOMS, you're not going to be a stranger to extra soreness. (Check out how to increase your exercise pain tolerance.) But how to deal with the pain, or whether to work through it, has always felt like a bit of a mystery. After all, research has found that taking NSAIDs can lead to gut barrier dysfunction—and more recently, that narcotic painkillers may ultimately cause more pain long-term. So what's a fit, maybe even accident-prone girl to do? Check out these options for natural pain relief instead.
To Ease Migraines: Mint
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Slathering a menthol gel across the back of your neck may help ease migraine pain, according to researchers from the Jefferson Headache Center at Thomas Jefferson University. In the study published in Frontiers in Neurology, 52 percent of migraine sufferers who rubbed on a mint-infused balm felt less pain within two hours, and 28 percent said their headaches were completely gone. How? Menthol appears to stimulate nerves that communicate with the brain to ease pain. The researchers used a 6 percent menthol gel called STOPAIN ($8, walmart.com), but a cold pack could also work. Apply it to your neck, behind your ears, and your forehead at the first sign of a migraine. (Another smart idea: Getting your blood tested, as vitamin deficiency can also cause migraines.)
Photo: George Doyle/Getty Images
To Ease Low Back Pain: Get Outside
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This trick only works during the day. That's because light exposure—from the sun or a light box, like what's used in bright light therapy—regulates serotonin and melatonin levels, two hormones that have been shown to help manage pain. Proof: A study in the journal Pain Medicine found that three treatments of bright light therapy significantly improved symptoms for people with chronic back pain. The study-prescribed dose: Half an hour of 5,000 lux light (about half the strength of indirect midday sun), three times a week, which seems totally doable.
To Ease DOMS: Cherry Juice
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According to research in the journal Nutrients, soccer players who chugged an ounce of tart cherry juice mixed in 3.3 ounces of water before or after playing reported less muscle soreness. (Full disclosure: The study was funded by the Cherry Marketing Institute, but other research has also found that tart cherry juice reduces activity-induced muscle pain.) The study authors believe that the juice curbs post-exercise inflammation, which is partially responsible for DOMS. (Learn about more unconventional ways to treat sore muscles.)
To Ease Cramps: Calcium
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Women who took 1,000mg of calcium a day experienced a significant reduction in menstrual cramps (yes!), according to new research in the journal Pain Medicine. Other studies have shown that women who don't get enough of the mineral are much more likely to have cramps, as calcium may have a relaxing effect on your muscles. Consider adding more calcium-rich foods like dairy, leafy greens, and fortified drinks to your diet.
To Ease Knee Pain: TENS
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TENS is short for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, and it's less scary than it sounds, we swear. Basically, you stick a device that sends electrical signals through your skin around your troubled area, which acts on your nerve endings to curb pain signals before they reach your brain, and releases endorphins (your body's natural pain-fighters). Try iTENS ($100, itens.com), which can be stuck on your knee or anywhere—your ankle, back, neck, etc.—and controlled via an app. (Need something a little more? 5 All-Natural Remedies for Sports Injuries.)
To Ease Joint Pain: Curcumin
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While researchers are calling for more studies to completely verify the use of this compound, most commonly found in turmeric, taking about 1,000mg a day of curcumin does appear to alleviate joint pain caused by arthritis, and it likely has perks for workout pain too. The yellow extract has potent anti-inflammatory properties, and inflammation is a major culprit in joint pain. Regardless of its pain-relieving abilities, the health benefits of turmeric and all the ways you can cook with it go far deeper than just helping those aches and pains.