Natural Nettle Sting for Arthritis Relief
By Evelyn Leigh
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
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
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
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.
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