Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Your health: Natural remedies for sports injuries

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Try natural remedies for your rugby or other sport-related injuries. Photo / Getty Images
Try natural remedies for your rugby or other sport-related injuries. Photo / Getty Images

I play rugby for a premier team and injured my shoulder last year. It healed and I can still play, but it niggles in each game. I've tried a bunch of anti-inflammatories that have been passed around the changing room but nothing seems to completely work. It means I can only play at 85 per cent and I don't want this to cost me the season. So I'm ready to try something natural (don't tell the team).

Firstly, I just want to say it is great that you are wanting to look at plant medicine to help you recover from your injury, it is a great option to help keep you in the game!

Unfortunately taking anti-inflammatory medications long term can have a negative effect on your body so it is great you are looking at alternatives to work with.

Plant medicine offers a variety of options that can help with reducing your discomfort, and often a combination of a topical cream and a herbal tincture or tea will give you the best results.

Arnica (Arnica montana) works well for anything inflammatory, like bruises, sprains, strains, swelling, fractures, and muscular and joint pain. Arnica helps to stimulate circulation to the injured area and can help with healing. This is very important for your sports injury as you need assistance to help with getting circulation and nutrients to the area.

In a randomised double-blind placebo controlled study an Arnica gel was tested in comparison with an Ibuprofen gel for the topical treatment of osteoarthritis of the hand. Arnica was as effective as Ibuprofen in reducing pain and improving mobility, with Arnica showing better tolerance.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale radix) is a well-researched herb that promotes the healing of fractured bones, soft tissue injuries, sprains and tendonitis. It stimulates the growth of new tissue and reduces scarring. In a randomised double-blind controlled study, 164 patients with acute ankle sprains applied either Comfrey or Diclofenac (Voltaren®) four times daily over a period of seven days.

Whilst the tenderness reaction was equally reduced by both, the Comfrey group experienced less pain upon pressure.

Rue (Ruta graveolens) is the best herb for tendon and ligament injuries. It increases surface circulation, helping to stop bruising, and also works by reducing the swelling and inflammation that can occur with injuries.

St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is amazing for any type of physiological trauma causing nerve pain and inflammation. It is especially beneficial for injured nerves, sciatica and disc damage. It is also excellent after surgery to accelerate the healing of cut nerves.

Heat is also a powerful pain reliever because pain and heat travel up the same receptors to the brain. However, the brain can only register either the pain or the heat.

A 2010 study established that creams containing capsicum are useful in patients with chronic soft tissue pain, confirming a meta-analysis that favoured creams including capsicum for improvement in pain and particular tenderness. As capsicum is a rubefacient, mild to moderate stinging on the treated area is a normal transient effect.

Capsicum preparations are particularly useful in deep seated problems like disc damage, frozen shoulder, chronic back pain or overuse syndromes.

You could also consider some anti-inflammatory additions to your daily diet such as ginger and turmeric, as they can help reduce inflammation if regularly consumed.

All the best for the season.

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Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Sandra Clair is the founder of Artemis (artemis.co.nz) offering New Zealanders a premium range of traditional plant medicine products. She is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified health professionals in her field, as a Swiss trained medical herbalist and a medical anthropologist (M.A.). Sandra is currently completing a PhD in health science at the University of Canterbury in collaboration with the Chair for Natural Medicine of the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

Read more by Sandra Clair

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