Helen limped into my office holding her hip. “Now I know what it’s like to grow old,” she said, and groaned as she settled into a chair in the waiting room.
She had tripped on a crack in the sidewalk while rollerblading with her son.
“I lost my balance and hit the pavement,” Helen said. “I think I bounced three or four times!”
Following the sound advice of her neighbor, a chiropractor, she applied a cold pack to her hip for the first twenty-four hours, then began alternating hot and cold packs. This had helped, but she was still in a lot of pain.
I examined her injured hip, which was black and blue in one spot, and saw that she had some nasty scrapes on her thigh. I carefully flexed her leg, and she winced when I got to a certain point. Her hip was definitely sprained.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), vital energy (qi) and blood become stagnant at pain sites. Helen’s pulse was “tight,” signifying that she had stagnation in her hip, so I gave her an acupuncture treatment to move the blocked blood and qi. I then applied some St.-John’s-wort oil to her thigh, explaining that it would reduce the pain of her scrapes and speed their healing.
I also gave Helen an injury kit to take home. It included a supply of St.-John’s-wort oil, which I asked her to apply three or four times daily for seven to ten days, calendula oil, and echinacea tincture (2 to 3 droppersful three times a day) to prevent infection and to help her cuts heal. Both the calendula and echinacea can be used for up to a week (see the Calendula Oil recipe below).
Her kit also included arnica liniment, which I told her to use three or four times a day. Arnica, a pleasant-smelling mountain plant with bright yellow flowers, is one of the best trauma herbs, famous in Europe for helping sprains, strains, and bruises heal quickly. Specifically, it breaks up congested blood, such as that evident in Helen’s big black-and-blue spot. Fortunately, her bruise and scrapes were in different places—arnica shouldn’t be used on open wounds because it can sometimes irritate and inflame them.
The last item in Helen’s injury kit was a liquid mixture of rosemary, ginger, angelica, and turmeric. In TCM, the combination of these four herbs balances energy and keeps blood from stagnating. I advised her to take a spoonful three times a day between meals, and asked her to take a dose before she left the clinic so it would start working right away.
Happy with Herbs
When I saw Helen the following week, she was in a cheerful mood. The bruise on her hip was nearly gone, the cuts had healed nicely, and she could walk well. But she still had some stiffness in her hip, so I gave her an acupuncture treatment, then handed her a tube of horse chestnut cream.
“Horse chestnut is a fantastic herb for humans who are ‘horsing around’ and get hurt,” I said.
I recommended that she apply enough to cover her sore hip several times a day, especially before bedtime, to reduce inflammation and speed healing.
As she was leaving, Helen said, “I’d say that avoiding aches and pains as we get older is much easier with lots of exercise—and a little help from our herbal friends.”
Christopher Hobbs, a fourth-generation botanist and herbalist, is an Herbs for Health Editorial Advisory Board member and licensed acupuncturist. He is the author of St. John’s wort: The Mood Enhancing Herb, (Botanica, 1997), Stress and Natural Healing, (Botanica, 1997), and many other books.
“Case studies from an herbalist’s notebook” are not intended to replace the advice of your health-care provider.