Chronic widespread pain affects one in ten people globally and is a leading cause for physician consults. An estimated 20.4% of the US population (50 million) suffers from chronic pain. Most people with pain try multiple alternative methods for pain control. Research shows that 92% of pain sufferers try three or more alternative strategies. 

Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicine, has been quite popular as an alternative for pain management and not without a reason because Ayurveda goes a step beyond pain relief by also working on pain reversal. Ayurveda can manage chronic, acute, neuropathic and inflammatory pain effectively and can treat  headaches and rheumatoid arthritis. Ayurveda believes that pain can be a disease in itself or a complication or manifestation of a disease. Pain is treated by eliminating the causative factor using therapeutic interventions, medications and, of course, lifestyle modifications. 

Shot of an mature man holding his shoulder in pain indoors
Ayurveda believes that pain can be a disease in itself or a complication or manifestation of a disease.

Causes of pain according to Ayurveda

Aggravated vata 

The five elements of nature, namely air, space, fire, water and earth constitute our body, and they control our physical and mental well-being. These elements are further grouped into three combinations called the three doshas or bio-elements:

  • kapha (water and earth)
  • pitta (fire)
  • vata (a combination of space and air)

For good health, all three doshas must be in balance. Any imbalance between the three causes disease.

Vata occupies the nerves, blood vessels, body channels and hollow spaces in our body. Vata needs to flow freely within our body as it regulates our movements and action. Any hindrance in this flow leads to pain. Since vata also moves the pitta and kapha within us, toxic vata leads to the accumulation of pitta and kapha in different areas in our body. 

Excess

Charaka Chikitsa Sthan, an Ayurvedic text, states that anything in excess causes pain. Pain, as well as gas and bloating, are common signs of aggravated Vata. Vata-aggravating factors include staying up late, stress, irregular schedules and excessive exercise, work or sex.

Inadequate blood flow 

You might be familiar with the idea  that chillness compresses and that heat expands. The same principle is applied in Ayurveda. Cold weather constricts our blood vessels and hampers the flow of blood. Inadequate flow of blood impedes vata flow and causes inflammation that results in pain. Dr.K.R.Shijith an Ayurvedic practitioner, mentions that removing the causative factor is the crux of pain management in Ayurveda.  Since chillness is the causative factor in many cases, he suggests heat generation to improve blood flow. 

Some Ayurvedic tips to manage pain

1.  A warm fomentation to restore blood flow

Take a piece of neat cotton cloth, fill it with powdered salt or mud, tie it and make a small pouch. Heat this pouch on a hot plate and when it is warm enough to the touch, apply on the affected area. This restores blood flow, reducing inflammation and pain.

Mix two pieces of camphor with 10ml of coconut oil, warm it and massage on the affected area. This also generates heat and improves blood flow.

2. Get up early

Ayurveda recommends waking up precisely 90 minutes before sunrise. This period is termed “Brahma Muhurtham” and is conducive to setting our bio-rhythm in order. This 90 minute time period before sunrise is vital to ensure good health. This is the period when the vata dosha is dominant in our body and will help in removing the accumulated waste. 

Exposure to bright light in early morning causes the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which contributes to feelings of well being and happiness

Portrait of a beautiful black-haired woman moving curtains apart and looking through the window.
Ayurveda recommends waking up precisely 90 minutes before sunrise.

3. Give yourself an oil massage

Ayurveda recommends an entire-body oil massage as part of a daily routine, as it pacifies vata which is the root cause of pain. If this is impossible, application to feet and head is recommended. Applying oil prevents sciatica pain as well as cracking and stiffness of the ligaments and tendons of the foot. A massage with Mahanarayan oil(Medicated Ayurvedic oil) is beneficial when pain is there, and when there is no pain sesame oil works well.

4. Practice Yoga and Pranayama

Yoga postures like Ustrasana, Bhujangasana, and Dhanurasana are helpful in reducing lower back pain and body stiffness. Breathing exercises like Anuloma –Viloma or Pranayama help in reducing cortisol and stress hormones. Yoga also increases endorphins that reduce pain.

Beautiful woman practicing yoga on wooden pier near island coast. Cinematic background during dawn.
Pranayama helps reduce stress, which is a cause of pain.

5. Use ginger and curcumin to decrease inflammation

Ginger has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may reduce pain. Make a paste of dry ginger and apply it on the affected area. A paste out of Urad (a variety of Indian lentil) and mustard, when applied on affected area, also helps.

Curcumin in turmeric has excellent anti-inflammatory properties and has been proposed as an alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Ibuprofen. 1000 mg/day of curcumin may reduce arthritis symptoms.

Turmeric and Ginger – The Roots of Life, traditional ayurvedic, alternative medicine
Turmeric and Ginger have anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to help with pain.

6. Drink Water

Drink water early in the morning to help eliminate toxins from the body, to stimulate peristalsis, and prevent dehydration.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Ayurveda recommends application of oil to the entire body as part of daily routine, as it pacifies vata which is the root cause of pain.
  • Warm fomentation with powdered salt or mud would reduce inflammation and reduce pain.
  • A daily intake of curcumin of about 2.5- 3 grams is beneficial.
  • Ayurveda recommends waking up 90 minutes before sunrise to maintain our biorhythm.