WHEN we feel pain, we say “ouch!” Pain is a warning. Essentially, it is the way your brain interprets information about a particular sensation that your body is experiencing. We need the sensation of pain to protect our bodies from further injury.

Perception and tolerance of pain vary widely from individual to individual; pain is difficult to define and describe. Prolonged uncontrolled pain is a serious matter as it can interfere with sleep, affect the immune system, cloud clear thought, interfere with daily work and activities, and even dull appetite. It can make one feel tired, worried, angry, stressed, frustrated, and even depressed.


Common causes of pain (especially when you hit middle age) would range from osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) to back pain. Osteoarthritis is a disorder of the joints, and most often affects the knees, hips, and other joints like those in the hand. The joint cartilage progressively wears away and causes pain. Rheumatoid arthritis on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease, where the body’s own antibodies attack the membranes around the joints. RA can attack any joint and the pains are usually caused by the inflammation of the joints.


The first line of treatment for joint and back pains is usually painkillers like paracetamol. If this does not work, physicians would prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen. Patients with more severe pains may be prescribed COX-2 inhibitors (a type of NSAID that selectively inhibits COX-2, an enzyme involved in the inflammation pathway).

When taken over long periods, some of these treatments may have unwanted side effects. For example, common side effects of NSAIDs are stomach bleeding and ulcers.

Apart from these side effects, taking NSAIDs may actually contribute to cartilage destruction, according to a study published in the Lancet. In other words, although drugs provide fast pain relief, some may actually be more harmful to the joints.


Are there any alternatives to conventional painkillers? There are natural herbs that have been proven to be equally effective in relieving back pain.

Two herbs that have been found to be effective include a patented willow bark standardised extract (EFLA462) and standardised cat’s claw extract.


The willow bark species has been used for centuries as a pain-reliever. There are many Willow bark extract preparations available worldwide and most of them are manufactured to contain salacin alone as the active component, which has been found to be ineffective as compared to the traditional willow bark product using the entire bark.

One standardised Willow bark extract uses the whole willow bark from a variety of willows including Salix purpurea, Salix fragilis and Salix daphnoids, which has higher amounts of active ingredients.

Besides anti-inflammatory and pain relief actions, studies have found that this patented willow bark also has protective effects on joint cartilage as well. This is a real advantage over conventional drugs as it not only relieves the symptoms but also treats the cause of the problem. Willow bark is thus a better choice for long-term pain and inflammation management as compared to conventional drugs as studies have confirmed its excellent safety profile.


Another herb that has been extensively researched for its ability to relieve pain is cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa). It is native to the Amazon, and South Americans have long used the bark and root of cat’s claw to alleviate health problems like arthritis and inflammation.

Compounds in cat’s claw are thought to block the body’s production of inflammation-producing substances called prostaglandins and tumour necrosis factor (TNF). Clinical trials have reported that people suffering from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis who were supplemented with cat’s claw experienced significant improvement in their pains.

As with the Willow bark extract , scientists have also discovered that cat’s claw protects the cartilage from breaking down. Therefore, both the Willow bark extract and cat’s claw have a dual action of providing pain relief as well as protecting the joint cartilage from breaking down.

When choosing a willow bark supplement, look for one that combines the patented standardised extract of willow bark together with a standardised extract of cat’s claw for their synergistic effects on effective pain relief, anti-inflammatory effect, and cartilage protection.

While supplements may help alleviate the pains you are experiencing, you should also adopt a healthy lifestyle. Try to maintain your ideal body weight, eat well by taking more fresh fruits and vegetables, go easy on red meat and saturated fat, and don’t forget to exercise regularly. Traditional treatment may take a longer time compared to conventional drugs, but rest assured that you are well on the road to healing your “Ouch!”