Need chronic painkillers? Try these natural alternatives

You massage your temples to try and ease the pain. This is your second headache of the day; time to pop another pill.

Painkillers have become household and handbag essentials over time. In the United States Opioids have even made headlines, as the drug-dependence epidemic surfaced. Strangely, many of us don’t know (or care) what we’re swallowing, as long as it gives us relief.

What you need to know

There are two main kinds of painkillers, anti-inflammatories and opioids. When you’re injured or hurt, special nerves send messages to your brain to communicate that you’re in pain. Painkilling drugs block or interfere with these messages, giving you relief. Not understanding the effects of any medication you’re taking could be dangerous, so let’s get clued up.


Anti-inflammatories are used to ease pain and reduce inflammation. They’re commonly used for conditions like joint pain, muscle and ligament pain (strains and sprains), period pain, headaches and migraines. Common over-the-counter anti-inflammatories are Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Celebrex and Aspirin.


Opioids are drugs that have morphine-like effects and are mainly used for pain relief. They activate opioid receptors and nerve cells in the brain, which helps with pain relief. Other uses include helping to ease coughing and diarrhoea. Examples of opioids are morphine, methadone and oxycodone.

Swallow with caution

When you feel pain, you want the quickest and most effective solution, so you turn to painkillers. The problem is, they can become addictive. Painkillers can be addictive over time because of their “quick fix” effect. If painkillers are taken for a long time, your body adapts to the effect and it won’t give you relief as easily. Over time, you’ll need to take a higher and higher dose to get the same effect, spiralling out into drug misuse.

Opioids are the most commonly abused prescription medications, which people often take just to feel good. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, 75% of overdose-related deaths are from opioids abuse or misuse.

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Ease the pain naturally

In some cases, like with chronic pain, anti-inflammatories and opioids are needed. Talk to your doctor before taking them, though. Alternatively, there are some natural ways to relieve pain.


This flavourful yellow powder gives curry its signature colour and flavour, and also has healing effects. It contains curcumin, an antioxidant that helps protect your body from free radicals. It helps relieve inflammation and pain and works well to soothe indigestion, muscle aches and ulcers. Make turmeric tea or flavour foods with it to reap the benefits. You can also take curcumin capsules if you don’t enjoy the taste of turmeric.


There’s an active ingredient in cloves called eugenol; a natural pain reliever. It’s widely used in pain ointments and comes in the form of capsules, powder and oil (besides its natural form). Rubbing a small amount of clove oil on sore gums temporarily relieves toothache pain, but talk to a dentist before using it and don’t use it undiluted. Cloves may also help with symptoms of a cold, nausea, pain and inflammation.

Lavender and peppermint oil

Peppermint oil helps improve circulation and lavender oil relieves muscle tension, making a good solution for aches and pain. Use a few drops of these oils to massage away a headache. Rub gently on your forehead, temples and the back of your neck. If it’s too strong, blend with some essential oil like coconut oil, almond oil or grape seed oil.

Good to know

  • Deep breathing and meditation will help ease pain.
  • For chronic pain, keep track of your pain levels with a score out of 10. This will help your doctor choose your treatment.
  • Always talk to your doctor before taking painkillers and read labels for warnings, dosage instructions and side-effects.
  • Do gentle exercises like dancing, swimming and walking. Staying active boosts endorphins; the feel-good hormone.