There’s no question that physical activity is terrific for your body, mind and spirit. But it’s the rare person who doesn’t occasionally suffer the downside of fitness, in the form of bruises, sore muscles, strains, sprains or tendonitis. To prevent sports injuries, warm up before working out, increase the intensity of your workouts gradually and stretch gently to keep muscles, tendons and ligaments pliable. If you do suffer an injury, the following natural remedies will get you back on your feet quickly.
Strains, Sprains and Tendonitis: Ease Inflammation
Strains affect muscles and sprains affect ligaments, the fibrous bands of tissue that attach bone to either bone or cartilage. Tendonitis affects tendons, fibrous bands that connect bone and muscle. What all of these injuries have in common is inflammation of the affected tissue.
Ice the pain. At the first sign of pain, stop what you’re doing and ice the injury. Ice is an excellent topical anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. For best results, apply an ice pack to the injury for 15 to 20 minutes at a time at least every couple of hours the first day. Repeat at least three times a day for two more days.
Paper cups filled with frozen herbal tea make instant soothers for muscle strains, sprains and bruises. To make, fill 8-ounce paper cups with a strong brew of chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and peppermint (Mentha ×piperita) tea and store in the freezer. To use, peel back the top couple of inches of the cup (leave the bottom of the cup intact to hold the ice) and apply to the injury with a gentle massaging motion.
Relieve Pain with Anti-inflammatory Herbs
Calming inflammation internally and externally encourages healing and eases pain. Turmeric (Curcuma longa), ginger (Zingiber officinale) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) are three excellent herbal anti-inflammatories.
Turmeric, the deep yellow-orange spice fundamental to Indian cooking and Ayurvedic medicine, contains curcumin, which studies prove can relieve inflammation as effectively as prescription drugs. To relieve acute inflammation, you need to take a large amount of turmeric—one ounce per day, or about four teaspoons. Add liberal amounts of turmeric to soups, egg salad or curries. Or mix turmeric into nut butter—the fat aids the absorption of the herb.
Ginger and rosemary also contain a variety of fat- and water-soluble compounds that help calm inflammation. Make a tasty ginger tea by simmering 3 tablespoons of fresh chopped ginger in 3 cups of water in a covered pot for 10 minutes. Strain out the ginger, sweeten if desired and drink 3 cups daily. Try soaking in a ginger-rosemary bath while sipping a cup of ginger tea for a double-dose of pleasant pain relief.
To make a ginger-rosemary bath, chop 1 cup of fresh gingerroot, add 2 tablespoons of fresh or dried rosemary and place the mixture on a square of cheesecloth. Tie into a ball with a piece of string. Simmer the herbs in 2 cups of water in a covered pot for 15 minutes. Add the ginger-rosemary tea and the ball of herbs to a hot bath, and soak for 15 minutes.
A blow to the skin damages blood vessels just beneath the surface, causing the characteristic black-and-blue stain of a bruise. Treating a bruise promptly helps minimize bleeding, relieves soreness and can lessen the amount of discoloration.
Speed healing with arnica (Arnica spp.). Packed inside arnica’s bright-yellow, daisylike flowers are potent anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving compounds that help reduce the swelling and soreness of bruises (as well as muscle strains and sprains). Apply arnica cream, gel or oil to an injury right away and continue applying three times daily until the soreness eases. Cold arnica compresses are great for bruises. This combines the herb’s healing properties with the pain relief provided by cold.
To make a cold arnica compress, dilute 1 tablespoon of arnica liquid extract in 2 cups of ice-cold water. Dip a thin cotton cloth into the mixture, squeeze out excess water and apply to the bruise. Cover with a dry tea towel, and apply an ice pack to keep the compress cold. Leave the compress in place for 15 to 20 minutes and repeat three times daily.
Improve circulation with heat. After the first 24 hours, apply heat to the bruised area. Heat increases circulation, which helps blood get reabsorbed from tissues and alleviates stiffness and soreness. A great recipe to try is a hot lavender compress. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil to a basin of hot water. Soak a washcloth in the water, wring it out and apply the hot cloth to the bruised area. Repeat as needed for 15 minutes at a time, three times a day.
Soothe Muscle Aches
Post-exercise soreness and muscle aches are the most common side effects of exercise. The pain is caused by tiny tears in muscle tissue that occur during exercise, and is the result of increasing exercise intensity or duration or by failing to warm up or stretch your muscles.
Soak away pain. A warm bath is an all-over body soother and helps soothe muscle soreness and stiffness. Add a generous amount of Epsom salts, which contain large amounts of muscle-relaxing magnesium. Essential oils, such as eucalyptus, ginger, lavender, rosemary, marjoram and peppermint, also help ease soreness.
Massage to Relieve Soreness
Massage increases circulation and helps the body eliminate lactic acid and other metabolic byproducts that cause muscle pain and stiffness. Essential oils provide deep relaxation and help alleviate pain.
Laurel Vukovic writes and teaches about herbs from her home in southern Oregon. She is the author of 1,001 Natural Remedies (DK, 2003) and Herbal Healing Secrets for Women (Prentice Hall, 2000).