One of the most well-known and respected natural remedies, the root of the ginger plant (Zingiber officinale) has been prized for centuries for both its culinary and medicinal properties. In folk medicine, it has been used for thousands of years to treat everything from colds to nausea to high blood pressure. Ginger’s best-known traditional use, however, may be in the area of pain relief, and it’s here that modern science is confirming its efficacy. Here are some research highlights.
Ginger and Arthritis
A 2001 study, published in Arthritis and Rheumatism, tested ginger’s effectiveness as a pain reliever on 261 patients with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. Participants received either ginger extract or a placebo twice daily for six weeks and were evaluated using an “intent-to-treat” analysis of their knee pain upon standing. Among the 247 patients who completed the study, 63% of the ginger group reported a reduction of knee pain, versus 50% in the placebo group. The ginger group also scored higher on secondary indicators of pain reduction, including pain levels after walking 50 feet and reduction in the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities osteoarthritis composite index (WOMAC). The researchers concluded that “a highly purified and standardized ginger extract had a statistically significant effect on reducing symptoms of OA of the knee.”
In 2005, Iranian researchers set out to test ginger’s efficacy as an alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) in the treatment of arthritis pain. They recruited 120 patients with moderate-to-severe OA pain that required only the use of NSAIDs for treatment. Patients were divided into three groups of 40 people each, and given either 30 mg of ginger extract, 400 mg of ibuprofen, or a placebo daily for one month. Patients were assessed using a visual analog scale (VAS) for pain, as well as gelling pain scores, joint swelling measurement, and joint motion slope measurement.
At the end of the study, patients in the ginger and ibuprofen groups experienced significant pain reduction when compared to patients in the placebo group, but there was no significant difference in the VAS and gelling pain scores achieved by the ginger and the ibuprofen groups. “The results of our study indicated that ginger extract could be used as an alternative to the NSAID and as a supplement drug in patients with osteoarthritis,” the researchers wrote in the Archives of Iranian Medicine.
Ginger and Muscle Pain
In 2010, researchers from Georgia College and State University evaluated ginger’s effectiveness in treating muscle pain and inflammation in two separate studies that were published jointly in The Journal of Pain, one that tested raw ginger and one that tested heat-treated ginger. In the first study, 34 participants were given either 2 grams of raw ginger or an equivalent placebo daily, and in the second, 40 volunteers consumed either 2 grams of heat-treated ginger or an equivalent placebo daily. Both studies lasted for 11 days.
Participants in both studies performed 18 actions designed to induce muscle pain and inflammation. The patients’ pain intensity, perceived effort, plasma prostaglandin E(2), arm volume, range of motion, and isometric strength were assessed prior to and for 3 days after performing the exercises. After evaluating the results, the researchers found that both raw and heat-treated ginger produced similar levels of pain reduction (25% and 23% respectively) when compared to placebo. “Our findings agree with those showing hypoalgesic effects of ginger in osteoarthritis patients and further demonstrate ginger’s effectiveness as a pain reliever,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion.
Ginger and Menstrual Cramps
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, sought to determine ginger’s effectiveness in treating pain associated with primary dysmenorrhea, or menstrual cramps. Researchers recruited 150 students aged 18 and over who suffered from primary dysmenorrhea and divided them into three groups. The first group received 250 mg capsules of ginger rhizome powder four times per day for three days after their periods began. The second group received 400 mg of ibuprofen and the third group 250 mg of mefenamic acid (another NSAID) on the same schedule. Volunteers were assessed using a verbal multidimensional scoring system to determine severity of disease, pain relief, and satisfaction with the treatment.
After one menstruation, the researchers evaluated the scores among the three groups and determined that there was no significant difference in the amount of pain relief experienced by any of them, meaning that ginger was just as effective as standard NSAID treatments in relieving pain.
A 2012 study, published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, also evaluated ginger’s effectiveness in treating menstrual pain, this time examining 120 students from Shahed University in Tehran, Iran. Participants were divided into two groups that received either 500 mg of ginger root powder or a placebo three times per day, with treatment beginning two days before the onset of a menstrual period and continuing through the first three days of the period. The volunteers’ pain levels were determined by using a verbal multidimensional scoring system and a visual analogue scale.
At the end of the study, the ginger group showed significant reductions in both pain severity and duration, leading the researchers to conclude that ginger could be an effective treatment for primary dysmenorrhea when used for 5 days.
As America struggles with an epidemic of addiction to conventional pain relievers such as opioids—and with opioids’ efficacy for certain types of pain being called into question by recent research—the search for effective natural pain relievers has never been more important. The studies cited here, and others, show that ginger root can be an effective alternative for treating a wide variety of types of pain, making the ancient root an important focus in the future of pain treatment.
Additional Reading — Botanicals for Pain:
- Supporting Joint Health with these 3 Botanicals
- White Willow Bark For Pain: 2 Supporting Studies
- Boswellia For Pain: 3 Supporting Studies
- Arthritis and Rheumatism
- Archives of Iranian Medicine
- Journal of Pain
- Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
- BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine