Working with Pain

Solomon Seal ( Polygonatum canaliculatum)

Solomon Seal (Polygonatum canaliculatum)

Topical Herbs for Pain

An Introduction

Topical herbs can reduce localized pain, speed the process of healing and help to resolve a cycle of inflammation. Aside from their important role in treating injury, topical pain relievers do not necessarily address the root cause of pain.

Topical herbs can be used as a stand-alone therapy or in conjunction with an internal herbal formula, which can more directly addresses the root cause of pain. Generally speaking, topical herbs are used to treat musculo-skeletal and peripheral nerve pain.


The Root Causes of Pain

Apart from accidental trauma or surgery, the most common causes of pain include:

Mechanical – Postural and ergonomic factors, repetitive motion strain.

Chemical – Exposure to drugs and/or environmental toxins.

Immunological – Infections and autoimmune reactions.

Lifestyle – Poor nutrition and/or hydration, chronic sleep deficit, weight gain, lack of exercise.


How do topical herbs relieve pain?

 On a localized tissue level they:

·      Improve circulation

·      Increase fluid drainage

·      Support tissue nutrition

·      Increase tissue immunity

·      Facilitate tissue healing and repair

·      Reduce inflammation

·      Reduce tension, cramping and spasm

·      Relieve pain


What common pain conditions can you treat with topical herbs?

·      Injuries (new & old)

·      Surgical Wounds

·      Sprains + Strains

·      Muscle Tension + Soreness

·      Muscle Cramps + Spasms

·      Carpal Tunnel

·      Sciatica

·      Tendonitis

·      TMJ

·      Fibromyalgia

·      Arthritis

·      Gout

·      Synovial Cysts

·      Bursitis

·      Back Pain

·      Headache

·      Menstrual Pain


A Biomedical Perspective on Pain

The symptoms of pain can be managed by substances that are:

Anesthetic – numbs sensation (e.g. wintergreen)

Analgesic – relieves pain. (e.g. cannabis)

Anti-nociceptive – inhibits sensation of pain (e.g. cayenne)

Anti-inflammatory – reduces inflammation (e.g. St. John’s wort)

Antispasmodic – reduces muscle contraction (e.g. valerian)

Additionally herbs can alter the pain cycle through the following actions:

Vulnerary – heal and repairs damaged tissue (e.g. comfrey)

Diuretic or Astringent – reduces swelling and edema (e.g. juniper)

Stimulant – reduces stiffness, increases immunity and nutrition through increased blood flow (e.g. ginger)


The Pain Cycle

You can more effectively address pain when you take into consideration the following three phases of pain:


Keywords: Irritation, Excitation

Time Frame: Climax occurs within 7-21 days after an injury, surgery or flare-up of a condition.

Duration: 4-6 weeks is typical, 2-3 months is possible.

Characteristics: Heat, swelling, inflammation. Pain which goes away.

Cause: Tissue damage (trauma, mechanical stress, chemical stress, immunological stress).

Healing Stage: Inflammatory/Proliferative (initial repair process).


Steps for Treating Acute Pain

1.     Topical and internal herbs which reduce inflammation, topical herbs which bring down swelling and increase tissue healing.

2.     Nutrition that supports repair e.g. protein, vitamin C, antioxidants.

3.     Good hydration.

4.     Cold therapy e.g. icing, cold water immersion.

5.     Rest.

6.     Appropriate physiotherapy and movement, as soon as possible.

Additional Notes

Acute Muscle Spasm
: Requires heat therapy, stretching, massage, muscle relaxants and antispasmodics.

Acute Back Pain:  Requires heat therapy, anti-inflammatories taken internally, topical muscle relaxants, gentle stretching, gentle core stabilization.


Keywords: Contraction, Congestion

Time Frame: 3-6 months.

Duration: Up to 12 months

Characteristics: Low-level swelling and edema, low-level inflammation, and compensatory muscle tension. Pain which goes away.

Causes: More significant tissue damage that requires longer to heal, poorly managed healing process.

Healing Stage: Remodeling (initial scar tissue is being replaced by stronger, more organized connective tissue).

Treating Subacute Pain

 1.     Topical herbs which improve circulation, move fluids, maintain tissue hydration, keep inflammation and muscle tension in check.

2.     Nutrition that supports repair e.g. protein, vitamin C, antioxidants.

3.     Good hydration.

4.    Contrast Hydrotherapy and/or Heat therapy e.g. heat packs, hot water immersion, sauna.

5.     Regular physiotherapy, massage, movement and exercise.



Keywords: Degeneration, Sensitization

Time Frame: Pain becomes chronic in nature after it has persisted for 6-12 months.

Duration: Ongoing.

Characteristics: Poor circulation, stiffness, limited range of movement, weakness, atrophy, pain sensitization, permanent tissue damage. Pain that doesn’t go away.

Cause: Poor healing and degenerative processes associated with aging and disease.


Treating Chronic Pain

1.    Topical herbs which reduce the sensation of pain, control inflammation and promote circulation.

2.    Internal herbs which reduce inflammation, improve general detoxification, and increase nutritional state.

3.    Contrast Hydrotherapy and/or Heat therapy e.g. heat packs, hot water immersion, sauna.

4.    Good hydration.

5.    Nutrition which lowers inflammation and supports healthy connective tissue (Reduce sugars, refined carbohydrates, and processed food; Eat abundant plant-based foods and healthy fats).

6.    Fasting intermittently or weekly to promote anti-aging hormones and lower inflammation.

7.    Restrict caloric intake to assist weight loss and lower inflammation.

8.    Regular massage, movement and exercise.



Crafting drug-free health solutions at the Urban Healer dispensary:

“Herbal medicine has been my secret weapon for staying healthy through the years. I look forward to sharing more of my time-tested methods with you!’

- Janna Shapero, at The Urban Healer

Janna Shapero