Herbal Pain Management: More Than One Way To Skin A Cat

The saying goes that there is more than one way to skin a cat. I have no idea where this saying came from. As a veterinarian, I speak cat fluently and work with cats all day…but they never want to talk about it. What it means to humans (not cats) is that there are often several ways to solve the same problem. When it comes to herbal pain management, this is certainly the case.

Not only are there several different tacks we can take, but there is often great benefit to using more than one strategum in our pursuit of being pain free.

So, where can you go to learn more about pain? You’re in luck. As a veterinarian and a naturopath, I’ve spent the past couple of decades relieving pain in all sorts of folks and critters. And, as if that weren’t credential enough, I have also parented 15 teenagers most of whom have been of the opinion that I can be a pretty big pain myself. So, you’re in good hands. Shall we get started?

Why Pain? 

When God was putting together His specs on the blueprints for the human body there were, undeniably, some moments of real genius. I mean if having the food go into the same hole that the noise comes out of on a crying baby isn’t evidence of a brilliant, divine design I don’t know what is. On the other hand, there are some of us that have occasionally asked why pain was a good idea. It’s a good question. And, unlike the inexplicable mystery of why little girls are so much smarter than little boys, this one has a pretty good answer. Pain protects us.

That’s right, the principle purpose of pain is to protect us from injury…or from FURTHER injury. The world is full of dangerous things; broken glass, fire, thorns, exercise equipment… Pain helps us to know that these things are not good for us and that we should avoid them! However there are times when pain is not helping us and is just..well…a pain. Fortunately, the same Creator that put the fail safe of pain into our systems also provided us with some remarkable plants to help us get out of it. There are several herbal actions that can be very useful for decreasing or eliminating pain. Let’s have a look.

Nervine Herbs

Nervines are plants that calm or sedate nerves. This can be quite handy as pain is caused by the stimulation of nerves called nociceptors.Putting these nerves down for a nap can significantly decrease pain. Some of my favorite nervines are valierian, chamomile and skullcap. They can be used internally or topically to calm nerves and decrease pain.

Anti-Inflammatory Herbs

Inflammation is another significant source of pain. Many herbs are effective anti-inflammatories. Some of my favorites are Yucca, Turmeric and Boswellia (Frankincense).

Anodyne Herbs

Anodynes are herbs that numb mucus membranes topically. Got a bad tooth? Slap some anodyne herbs on there topically. Years ago, my wife had some dental work done on a tooth. After the novacaine wore off, she was in tremendous pain. She’s an Idaho farm girl and has a very high pain threshold but this tooth was pushing her over the edge. I called the dentist who is a buddy of mine and told him that the toughest lady in the world was not handling her post-dental pain. He told me to give her a lot of ibuprofen…really a lot. While I was sure that would help her pain, I was also sure if I gave her that much ibuprofen I’d be treating an ulcer later. I had a better idea. I went to the herb building and got some cloves tincture. I soaked a cotton ball in the tincture and poked it in her mouth next to the tooth…actually I had her do it. She bites sometimes. The pain was gone almost immediately and as long as we refreshed the cotton ball every once in a while, she was fine. Yarrow root is similarly effective for dental pain.


Anti-spasmodics are herbs that relax muscles. Often, when we injure ourselves, our body responds by vigorously contracting local muscles. It does this to immobilize the area because, Heck! Last time you moved it it really hurt! While this seems like a good idea to your body, the muscle spasms can often be more painful than the original injury. Herbs like cramp bark, black cohosh, lobelia and gumweed can be very helpful in decreasing this sort of pain.


But Wait! There’s More!

There are a number of other categories of herbs that are really useful for pain. If you’d like to learn more, have a look at these:

If you can’t make it to the live event, we’ll record it and put it on our
I’ll also be doing Masters’ Seminars and workshops on pain management. Attending one of those would give you remarkable knowledge and skills for managing pain for folks you care about.
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