Nerve Pain Relief: Natural Treatments Using Supplements & More


Stabbing, prickling, burning, tingling—these words can all describe nerve pain. You know that when the pain is not controlled, it can be unrelenting and hard to bear. (1) According to various estimates, 20 to 40 million Americans experience some type of nerve pain. (2)(3)

Did you know?
Sometimes nerves can regenerate, or surgical treatments provide long-term solutions, yet often nerve pain is a chronic condition.

The good news is that you can get relief for sciatic nerve pain, and it may not need to be surgery or expensive drugs with potentially serious side effects. Many have tackled symptoms with the right combination of activities and supplements. The key is finding what is safe and effective for the root cause and the individual. Be sure to talk with your healthcare professional about the best nerve pain relief plan for you.

What is nerve pain?

Nerve pain can result from disease, infection, or injury. You might hear it called neuropathy, which means “damage to one or more nerves,” or peripheral neuropathy, a reference to the peripheral nervous system that sends pain messages to the brain. (1) Depending on its cause, nerve pain can affect many parts of the body. Here are just a few types:

What causes nerve pain

  • Back problems can lead to sciatic nerve pain, ranging from mild to severe. This is caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve. While sciatic nerve pain usually occurs in the lower spine, it need not be limited to the lower back. (4)
  • Diabetes can lead to neuropathy in legs and feet, sometimes arms and hands due to high blood pressure. The nerve pain from diabetic neuropathy can range from numbness to problems with digestion, the urinary tract, blood vessels, and the heart. For some, these can be mild but for others, diabetic neuropathy can be quite painful. (5)
  • Vitamin deficiencies, toxins, and chemotherapy can damage nerves. Nerve pain often accompanies malnutrition caused by a diet deficient in some key nutrients such as vitamin B12. Research suggests that some new medications can also cause peripheral neuropathy. They need to be assessed fully to treat nerve pain.

Did you know?
In the United States, vitamin B12 deficiency is common. An estimated 10% and 25% of people over 80 years of age may have a B12 deficiency. (6) The upside is that conditions resulting from malnutrition can be prevented with the right supplements for nerve pain. (7)

  • Nerve pain can accompany multiple sclerosis, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, and other conditions. If you suffer from arthritis, for instance, you are likely acutely aware of the pain signals that are sent from your damaged joints to your central nervous system causing severe nerve pain. (8)(30) Similarly, “up to two-thirds of people with MS report pain as a symptom in worldwide studies.”(9) Chronic neuropathic pain can last up to 12 weeks, in some cases. (10)

Why is sciatic nerve pain so common?

Everyone seems to have sciatica! But what exactly is that? The sciatic nerve is the largest in the human body and runs from the lower back through the hips and down both legs. (11) Up to 40% of Americans report sciatic nerve pain at some point in their lives, and the likelihood increases as we age. (12) Why is that? So many things can happen—compression of the spine from injury and aging, disks slipping (herniating) or bulging, and even infection.

patient in practitioner's office holding lower back, in pain

The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back down both legs and is the largest nerve in the body.

Coping with nerve pain

Medical intervention tries to address the root causes of pain. But if that is not possible, treatments can help deal with the symptom—the pain itself. It’s possible to block nerve pain through surgery, injections, pain medications, and other treatments. (11)

There is another route to relief that is less invasive than surgery, typically has far fewer side effects than pain drugs, and usually is less expensive. Natural remedies work for many people who find relief with lifestyle changes coupled with targeted supplements. No matter how natural or simple a remedy may seem, remember to always consult your healthcare provider about anything you want to try.

Lifestyle tips for nerve pain relief

If you are struggling with nerve pain, you will react individually. This is because you have different underlying causes for your pain as compared to others. It makes sense that not every solution will work for everyone. Some activities that people find effective include using hot or cold packs, exercise, physical therapy, massage, biofeedback, acupuncture, and other modalities. Here are some of the most cited general suggestions for coping with nerve pain.

Diet and habits

Advice for those with nerve pain is similar to tips for everyone else: eat well, exercise regularly, get good sleep, and avoid alcohol and smoking. For those with nerve pain, these guidelines should be tailored to specific causes, and they can often do wonders in helping cope with debilitating pain.

  • A balanced and healthy diet is important for all, but it can be crucial where neuropathy is involved. High-fat diets can lead to obesity, diabetes, and related nerve pain. (13) On the other hand, some restrictive diets can cause deficiencies of nutrients that lead to neuropathy. (14) This highlights how important it is to consult a healthcare professional about individual needs.
  • Exercise promotes blood flow to the nerves and releases natural painkillers called endorphins. (15) Physical activity needs to be planned around the cause of the pain so that the exercise does not do further damage.
  • Being in pain can hamper sleep. Ironically, a good night’s sleep can help cope with pain, so it’s important to find ways to relax and drift off. (16) Natural methods include meditation and supplements like melatonin.
  • Limiting alcohol use helps avoid worsening of conditions that lead to neuropathy. (17)(18) Alcohol also can react with medications, changing how they work and possibly creating health risks. (19)
  • Tobacco use lowers the blood supply to nerves and slows healing. (20)
Group of people on yoga maps stretching in Balasana or child pose.

Yoga and stretching are often recommended for coping with nerve pain.

Yoga and stretching

A regular stretching routine lengthens muscles and increases range of motion. Studies show that specially adapted yoga or stretches help improve movement and reduce pain. (21)(22) Other exercises for sciatic nerve pain, like strength training, have been shown to reduce pain by improving strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance. (23)

Acupuncture

Another example of helpful therapy is acupuncture. Much more needs to be understood about acupuncture needling, but several studies of those with low back pain show that acupuncture combined with other treatments can reduce pain. (24)

Best supplements for nerve pain

We have used herbs, extracts, oils, and various therapies as natural pain relievers for centuries. Natural supplements and treatments for nerve pain vary greatly, just as the causes and locations of pain differ. For starters, natural remedies help avoid risks of pain-relief drugs. For example, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can lead to stomach ulcers, kidney problems, and other issues.

Did you know?
Opioids, the most powerful pain relievers, are highly addictive and responsible for the majority of accidental overdose deaths in the United States. (25)

Here are some examples of supplements that have been found successful in the control of nerve pain.

Vitamin B12

The B vitamins, especially B12, have been found beneficial in many ways. B12 helps the body form red blood cells and may support bone and nerve health. The lack of B12 can cause nerve pain issues. (26) The body does not make vitamin B12. The vitamin occurs naturally in animal foods like clams and beef liver (two of the best sources of B12) and other fish and meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products. Some processed foods— like breakfast cereals— may be fortified with B12, and this will be listed on the nutrition label.

pasta dish with mushrooms and pasta sauce

Foods that contain vitamin B12 include beef liver, fish, mushrooms, and dairy products.

Amino acids

Early findings suggest that the amino acids acetyl L-carnitine, lipoic acid, and L-carnitine help support peripheral nerves and may have positive effects in patients with diabetes. (27) You may also know that omega-3 fatty acids— like those in fish oil supplements— fight inflammation. Researchers discovered that patients taking supplemental omega-3s stated their overall pain level improved. (28) Omega-3s also have been studied and found beneficial for nerves damaged by chemotherapy.

Curcumin

If you like to eat curry dishes, you have had curcumin! It’s the active ingredient in turmeric, a spice widely used in Asian foods. Curcumin has been used to treat pain, and rheumatoid arthritis. (29) Studies show that this extract offers significant relief for nerve pain.

Added to tea, curries, or even a glass of milk— turmeric (Curcuma longa)— helps with nerve pain relief because of its anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties. (30)

Turmeric root and turmeric powder rest on a wooden surface next to curcumin supplement capsules on a wooden spoon.

Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, a plant in the ginger family whose powdered form is used for flavoring and coloring in Asian cooking.

CBD

CBD, short for cannabidiol, comes from the cannabis plant. Don’t let the mention of marijuana stir up any controversy—CBD does not get anyone high. It is separate from THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component of cannabis. CBD has long been associated with curative properties, including some studies linking it to anti-inflammation and nerve pain relief. In a study conducted on animals, when CBD was applied on the skin it helped lower the pain and inflammation due to arthritis. It is also shown to inhibit neuropathic pain, which is one of the most chronic pains to treat. However, more research is needed. (31)(32) The extract is available in forms such as capsules, oils, creams and gels, and sprays.

Capsaicin

Some creams and ointments—like capsaicin topical— have been shown to alleviate chronic back pain and other nerve pain by numbing the area where they are applied. (33) The anesthetic effect of such creams and ointments can bring soothing temporary relief of nerve pain. Capsaicin is derived from chili peppers. Other topicals use different natural ingredients, like botanical oils. All have the advantage that you can apply them exactly where you need relief.

Essential oils

Essential oils are concentrated liquid compounds extracted from plants, including eucalyptus, ginger, lavender, and many more. In the practice of aromatherapy, these oils are either inhaled or applied to the skin. Studies show that some may help to alleviate nerve pain.

  • Inhaling eucalyptus oil was found to be effective in decreasing pain, along with blood pressure, for patients who had total knee replacement surgery. (34)
  • Among its many uses, ginger oil has been shown to help lessen nausea, migraines, muscle pain, and inflammation. (35) The last item in this shortlist is important because chronic inflammation is one cause of nerve damage. (36)
  • Research suggests that lavender oil has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects in animals. (37)
  • Studies have found that aromatherapy can be beneficial as part of the overall treatment of pain. It also has fewer side effects than traditional pain management drugs. (38)

The bottom line

It is best to tackle nerve pain relief with a holistic approach. While you can include pain relief supplements such as CBD, vitamin B12 and curcumin in your diet, it makes sense to augment the benefits of supplements and essential oils with physical activities such as acupuncture, physical therapy, and yoga. The good news is that you have many supplements and other natural treatments to help you cope with nerve pain effectively. The key is finding the right ratio!

Talk to your healthcare practitioner about what might work for you.

If you are a practitioner, consider signing up to Fullscript. If you are a patient, talk to your healthcare practitioner about Fullscript!

  1. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Peripheral-Neuropathy-Fact-Sheet%20
  2. https://www.foundationforpn.org/what-is-peripheral-neuropathy/types-risk-factors/
  3. https://neuropathycommons.org/neuropathy/neuropathy-overview
  4. https://www.medicinenet.com/sciatica/article.htm
  5. https://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/7/6/493
  6. https://www.foundationforpn.org/what-is-peripheral-neuropathy/causes/vitamin-nutrition-deficiency/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4208100/
  8. https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/pain-management/understanding/what-causes-pain.php
  9. https://www.msif.org/about-ms/symptoms-of-ms/pain/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470151/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482431/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK5
  13. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/mi/2010/268547/abs/
  14. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.5694/j.1326-5377.1977.tb130506.x
  15. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1991-00542-001
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5701896/
  17. http://iogt.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Alcohol-diabetes.pdf
  18. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978044462619600029X
  19. https://search.proquest.com/openview/d3cf9b46b1791ae046e33544023519ea/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=48866
  20. https://www.minitightrope.com/pdf/smoking-orthopedic-consequences.pdf
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24688341
  22. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/yoga-eases-moderate-severe-chronic-low-back-pain
  23. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/yoga-or-stretching-eases-low-back-pain
  24. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction#hed3
  25. https://www.mayoclinic.org/chronic-pain-medication-decisions/art-20360371
  26. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/vitamin-b12-deficiency-can-be-sneaky-harmful-201301105780
  27. https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2010-08/therapeutic-effects-acetyl-l-carnitine-peripheral-neuropathy-review-literature
  28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=16531187
  29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4437313/
  30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3946321/
  31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22585736
  32. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476
  33. https://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/JCO.1997.15.8.2974
  34. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23853660
  35. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92775/
  36. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000777.htm#targetText=Chronic%20inflammatory%20demyelinating%20polyneuropathy%20(CIDP,loss%20of%20strength%20or%20sensation
  37. http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0001-37652015005050056&lng=en&nrm=iso&tlng=en
  38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5192342/

Additional Resources:

Peripheral Neuropathy: What It Is and What You Can Do to Feel Better, by Janice F. Wiesman (https://books.google.com/books?id=MuICDQAAQBAJ&printsec)

Weiner’s Pain Management: A Practical Guide for Clinicians, edited by Mark V. Boswell, B. Eliot Cole (https://books.google.com/books?id=E4aiDwAAQBAJ&pg)