The folk remedy of using nettle sting for arthritis relief is used by many cultures to relieve arthritis pain.
Natural Nettle Sting for Arthritis Relief
The practice of urtication—intentionally inflicting nettle stings upon one’s body—is not for the faint of heart. But a new clinical study suggests that this folk remedy for arthritis pain may deserve a closer look. The small British study is the first to scientifically investigate this particular traditional use of the plant, which is still employed by various cultures around the world.
According to the placebo-controlled study, daily application of fresh stinging nettle to painful joints was significantly more effective than a placebo in relieving pain. The study participants were twenty-seven people with osteoarthritis pain at the base of the thumb, none of whom had ever used nettle as a treatment before. For a placebo, the investigators chose white deadnettle (Lamium album), which resembles stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) but does not sting. Participants were told that two different kinds of nettle were being studied and that they might experience a mild stinging sensation.
Participants applied stinging nettle leaf to the painful joints once daily for one week; then, after a five-week period of no treatment, repeated the procedure using deadnettle. Neither the researchers nor the participants were aware of the treatment order. Participants reported significantly greater reductions in pain and disability after treatment with stinging nettle. Twenty-three of the participants reported that the slight rash and itching caused by the live nettles was “acceptable;” two found it “unpleasant but not distressing;” the remaining two participants did not complete the study. The researchers concluded, “The stinging nettle is a freely available plant and its sting seems a safe treatment for musculoskeletal pain.”
Before designing the clinical study, the same research team conducted exploratory interviews with eighteen people who had used nettle stings in the past to treat a variety of painful conditions, from osteoarthritis to tendinitis and back pain. All but one of the participants reported that nettle had been effective in relieving their pain, and several considered themselves “cured.” While this type of information is purely anecdotal, it points the way for interesting future research.
These new studies add to a growing body of evidence supporting the use of the nettle plant in the treatment of arthritis. Two clinical trials conducted since 1996 showed that consumption of stewed nettle leaf in combination with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs significantly enhanced the effectiveness of the arthritis drugs for people with osteoarthritis. Whether or not consumption of nettle leaf alone relieves arthritis pain remains to be investigated.
Nettle’s botanical name, Urtica, is a Latin word meaning “to sting.” (The technical term for hives, urticaria, is derived from the same root word.) A brush with live nettles results in a mildly painful, itchy rash that can last anywhere from an hour to more than a day, depending on the severity of the sting and the sensitivity of the individual. The stinging sensation comes from chemicals delivered by tiny, hollow hairs that cover the entire plant. One of these chemicals, formic acid, is the one that puts the sting in red ant bites. Nettles’ stinging hairs are inactivated when the herb is dried or cooked.
Randall C., et al. “Randomised controlled trial of nettle sting for treatment of base-of-thumb pain.” Journal of the Royal Study of Medicine 2000, 93: 305–309.
Randall C., et al. “Nettle sting of Urtica dioica for joint pain—an exploratory study of this complementary therapy.” Complementary Therapies in Medicine 1999, 7: 126–131.
Read more about soybean foods and your health: Natural Healing Using Soybean Foods.