Causes of Chronic Pain:

What causes chronic pain?

  1. Autoimmunity
  2. Chronic Inflammation
  3. ‘Misbehaving’ Nerves


Autoimmunity is when your body loses its ability to accurately distinguish between ‘self’ and ‘non-self’. Your white blood cells begin to attack specific tissues.

Examples of autoimmune conditions are:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • lupus
  • MS
  • Graves disease.

Many of these are painful conditions. However, as we address the pain itself, we should be asking: is there anything we can do to help the body ‘recognize’ its own tissues again? The answer may be in immunomodulators.

pain_reliefImmunomodulators are herbs that help balance the immune system. Classically, pharmacological drugs either suppress the immune system or encourage it; either can be very detrimental.

The function of an immunomodulator is to increase immune response when it is stressed, and decrease the immune response when it is overexcited.

Immunomodulators include mushrooms like Reishi and Maitake, as well as Astragalus and Liquorice root.

While these will not cure autoimmune conditions like RA and fibromyalgia, they can make a big difference in the progress of the disease and the pain experienced.


Inflammation is caused in part through the action of chemical messengers called cytokines. These chemicals are important to human health, but when they are elevated they may lead to pain and discomfort.

Herbal anti-inflammatories work systemically, and over time may decrease the overall inflammation in the body.

For joints and the body as a whole, turmeric, black cohosh, arnica, and essential fatty acids (EFAs) are generally helpful. There is a commercial product ‘Curamin’ that is an extract of turmeric that many have found helpful as an antiinflammatory. For immune issues that specifically relate to the gut, chamomile, liquorice, marshmallow and witch hazel may be of service. Those taking cortisol supplements should not take liquorice, however, as it has glucocorticoid-like chemicals and activity.

knee-painIssues in the gut can cause widespread issues throughout the system, including issues with pain management and pain control. A person who unknowingly consumes food to which they are sensitive or allergic can set up an inflammatory cascade with far-reaching implications. Therefore, someone with systemic pain and inflammation should certainly get a food allergies/sensitivities panel completed before moving forward. Again, this is not a ‘fix’ for an inflammatory condition, but many patients feel far better and experience less pain when they do not eat or drink foods that excite a cytokine cascade!


Neuralgia can actually be caused/triggered by a muscle spasm, in which case try the muscle-relaxing herbs we referred to earlier. Increased mineral intake may help with muscle spasm as well, particularly calcium and magnesium.

Nerve pain may also be caused by inflamed tissues pressing up against a nerve, in which case anti-inflammatory chemicals may be of use as painkillers.

Otherwise, there are specific herbs that seem to regulate neural impulses, such as St. John’s Wort (it shines here, as well as in depressive disorders), scullcap, California poppy, and Withania. However, before attempting to use any herbs for this condition, it is reasonable to try to affect nerve pain through affecting muscle spasm and overall inflammation.