Problems with muscles and joints, although not usually life-threatening, can be extremely debilitating. A herbal approach to joint and muscle health can address many aspects of body function that are not operating optimally and having a damaging effect on the tissue.
- Circulation: Good circulation of blood to tissues is crucial for supplying oxygen and nutrients crucial for cell function, healthy tissue structure and healing. Capillary or microcirculation is often compromised in chronic conditions. This is also further exacerbated when degeneration or damage of the cartilage lining joints is an issue as cartilage itself has a very poor blood supply by its nature. Therefore it’s often beneficial to aid microcirculation if it’s compromised, by using herbs and food that can increase blood flow by e.g. dilation of blood vessels. Commonly used herbs are ginger and chilli which can be used in the diet or applied topically to the affected area.
- Inflammation: Any symptoms of pain, redness or swelling in joints or muscles indicate inflammatory processes that by their nature cause damage to the tissue. Inflammation can be a necessary process when the immune system is attacking pathogens, but when it’s chronic and there isn’t any infection, causes unnecessary damage to tissue. A mainstay of conventional drugs for joint and muscle pain are anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and corticosteroids, although side-effects are significant. Herbal anti-inflammatories are useful additions to a protocol to reduce inflammation and those that are particularly useful here are ginger and turmeric which can both be easily added to the diet. Fish oils are also great anti-inflammatories as are many minerals such as selenium and magnesium and vitamins from A to E.
- Tissue drainage: Wherever there is inflammation, tissue drainage via the lymphatic system needs to be encouraged to reduce the inflammation. Many herbs are considered tissue ‘cleansers’ and include Echinacea, marigold and burdock.
- Immune implications: Many conditions of inflammation of muscles and joints have an element of immune involvement. Some conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis are autoimmune and an over-active element of immune function causes damage to joints and there may also be immune activity in osteoarthritis, which may be associated with low level infection in the joint, although this is more controversial. Therefore it’s always useful to consider immune function and pathogens in the body, using herbs and diet to support healthy immune function and inhibit pathogens. Probiotics are crucial here for good immune function and to support the health of the gut so that pathogens and unwanted inflammatory particles don’t enter the bloodstream (‘leaky gut’). Marigold and garlic are common immune strengtheners and also inhibit pathogens. Important nutrients are vitamins A,C, D, zinc and selenium.
- Tissue health: Whenever there is inflammation the body will attempt to heal the tissue and supporting this will make tissue stronger and more resistant deterioration. Great tissue healers are horsetail and comfrey, used topically. Micronutrients that are important for strong tissue are vitamins A,C and zinc
- Pain relief: As well as encouraging circulation, chilli is also a great pain reliever. It over-stimulates the nerves that transmit pain to stop functioning, giving pain relief for several days and can be a really useful way of reducing pain in addition to the other approaches above. A more extreme use of herbs for pain relief is stinging a painful joint with stinging nettle and this gives relief over a few days, partly by encouraging blood flow to the area.
- Tissue relaxation: Pain in muscles and joints is often associated with tension in muscle tissue, which can be painful in itself and also cause joints to be overly tight so relaxation and massage can help. Herbs can also be helpful to relax muscle and they include passionflower, liquorice, chamomile and lime blossom. Magnesium is also a particularly effective supplement for any kind of tension in the body.
Making a healing comfrey balm
- Make comfrey infused oil by covering dried comfrey leaves with your choice of oil and leaving sealed for 2-3 weeks, shaking as often as you can. Filter off the oil using a muslin cloth.
- Place a small piece of cocoa butter in a pot with a little comfrey infused oil
- Float the pot in freshly boiled water and leave until the cocoa butter melts
- Add a drop of essential oil of wintergreen and a drop of chilli tincture if the balm is for arthritis and stir in.
- Leave to cool and use topically on sore joints, muscles or bruises