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Herbal Supplements for Back Pain

Peer Reviewed

Herbal supplements have been used for centuries by many cultures for their health and dietary properties. These supplements are made from herbs—plants that are valued for their distinctive flavor, scent, and/or medicinal benefit. If you have back or neck pain and would like to explore alternatives to conventional medications, herbal supplements may be an option for you.

While dietary supplements and vitamins are primarily used to help meet basic nutritional needs, herbal supplements often serve a medicinal purpose. In other words, they may actually help treat your back or neck pain symptoms.

Some examples of herbal supplements that treat pain include cayenne (reduces the intensity of pain signals), devil's claw (relieves inflammation), and eucalyptus (clears chest congestion).

The Benefits of Herbal Supplements
There are number of reasons people opt for herbal supplements instead of traditional drugs and medications. Some people choose herbal supplements because they may provide pain relief without the side effects associated with medications. One example is white willow bark, which has been used for many years for its anti-inflammatory properties. But it won't upset your stomach like aspirin can.

Some people prefer herbal supplements because they are natural products. But this is a foggy area. You see, natural does not always mean safe or good for you.

Special Considerations
Herbal supplements aren't as closely regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as over-the-counter or prescription drugs. This is because drugs have a higher risk-to-benefit ratio than herbal supplements do, and therefore, they have stricter FDA regulation standards1.

And though some herbals may be a suitable alternative for some medications, such as the white willow bark example mentioned above, not all herbal supplements are free of side effects. Comfrey, for instance, treats stings, burns, and bruises. However, it's also been associated with liver damage.

To learn more, read our article about herbal supplements and safety.

It's always important to talk to your primary care doctor before you start taking an herbal supplement for your back or neck pain. He or she will let you know if it could cause side effects or interact with your current medication. Also, you should do some research on your own—and we have a great starting point. For a listing of herbal supplements with links to learn about specific herbs, visit our supplements index.

Updated on: 01/21/10
Laurie Morse, LAc, MTOM
This article was reviewed by Laurie Morse, LAc, MTOM.
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