Q & A: Elbow Bursitis Treatment

I have recurring inflammation in my elbow, which has become infected a few times over the past fifteen years (some type of bursitis, I’ve been told). When it’s severe, my elbow is red, puffy, hot, and even a light touch is very painful. Aspirin helps, but if I take it for more than a day or two, I start bruising easily.

My doctor doesn’t know how to prevent this, nor was any treatment offered besides a strong antibiotic/anti-inflammatory combination. What can help this condition?
–M. C. Westville, Indiana

Gladstar responds: I have seen regular use of warm poultices relieve this type of inflammation and help heal its cause over a period of time. When the inflammation is active (red, puffy and hot), make a warm poultice of fresh or dried comfrey (Symphytum officinale) leaves. Pour hot water over the leaves and blend in a blender to a thick mash. Wrap this mash in a large piece of cloth, and place directly against the inflamed area. Cover the cloth with a towel to help keep the warmth in as long as possible, and leave in place for 45 minutes or longer. Repeat this several times a week.

To make the poultice even more effective, try Kloss’s liniment on the inflamed area first. This liniment is a famous old recipe for inflammation and is found in Back to Eden (Benedict Lust Publications, 1981), the herbal classic by Jethro Kloss. You can make the liniment yourself by adding 1 ounce of myrrh (Commiphora spp.) powder, 1 ounce of goldenseal powder, and ¼ ounce of cayenne (Capsicum annuum) powder to 1 pint of rubbing alcohol and letting it sit for two weeks. Strain it through a fine-meshed cheesecloth, rebottle the liquid and gently spread it on the inflamed area.

Many people suffering from arthritis, bursitis and other muscular/skeletal type problems have reported relief by taking daily doses of glucosamine sulfate. I have found glucosamine to be very effective for reducing arthritic-like pain and enhancing cartilage regeneration. A suggested dose is 500 mg three times daily.

Stansbury responds: Bursitis can be caused by injury, gout, rheumatoid arthritis or infections. Often, the cause is unknown. You should have a basic blood test done to make sure your uric acid (a metabolite of protein and purine digestion) is not elevated; if it is, you could be suffering from episodes of gout. If this seems unlikely and the problem is infectious in origin as you suggest, echinacea may reduce the chronic tendency. Try using echinacea (two 150-mg capsules two times daily or two droppersful of the tincture two times daily) for two to three months. Decrease the dosage by one-half if symptoms improve after one month.

I would also search for any other clues. If you have other types of recurring infections such as simple colds or flus, I would definitely treat the immune system to resolve the elbow infections. If you have bowel problems or liver symptoms such as elevated liver enzymes, high cholesterol, difficulty digesting fat, or gas, nausea, or bloating after meals, I would treat the bowels, liver and digestion to help rid the body of waste and improve the absorption of nutrients to treat the elbow. If you also experience other symptoms such as poorly healing wounds, swollen ankles or tender enlarged lymph nodes, I would treat the lymphatic system to help ease the chronic infection.

Rosemary Gladstar, author of Herbal Healing for Women (Simon & Schuster, 1993) and several other books on herbalism, runs Sage Mountain Retreat Center and Native Plant Preserve in East Barre, Vermont. Her experience includes more than twenty years in the herbal community as a healer, teacher, visionary, and organizer of herbal events.

Jill Stansbury has been a naturopathic physician for more than ten years, with a private practice in Battleground, Washington. She is the chair of the Botanical Medicine Department at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, and the author of many books, including Herbs for Health and Healing (Publication International, 1997).

The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.

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