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Alternative Medicines- Part 2 - Topical Herbals for Skin & Muscle Sprains and Injuries

Updated on March 9, 2016

Bodily Injuries Can Happen Everywhere


Herbs and Spices


Ginger root before processing.

Olive Leaves and Berries in Its' Natural State.


Cayenne, chili or hot red pepper.

Just looking at this pepper makes my eyes water- still it makes for a great topical pain reliever
Just looking at this pepper makes my eyes water- still it makes for a great topical pain reliever

Wintergreen Leaves in Natural Form (Picture 6)


Flowers of Arnica


Common Herbals Used for Topical Applications

Being a daily runner, a man who utilizes ballet as exercise and a pharmacist who gets lots of questions concerning bodily injuries and pain, I decided to focus on common herb and plant extracts that can be used for muscle sprains. I will also include those applications that can be used for the good health and integrity of the skin.

I want to reiterate, that alternative meds are still medicines and must be monitored for any adverse affects. Always work with a health professional and/or do research on your own. "Natural" meds can be just as dangerous as traditional meds but more so if used incorrectly. I say this to ensure practice of common sense, not fear.

GINGER ROOT: Ginger root is a wonderful treatment for pain and inflammation, topically or internally. I have used it; however, used the oil and did not grind it down myself. It can also be taken internally for inflammation and aches. The oral product can be bought at one of many specialty stores that focus on alternative meds. From my research, studies indicate ginger root has fewer side effects than traditional oral meds. When applied topically, it can be quite excellent for muscle sprains as experienced by athletes of all kinds or mild to moderate accidents resulting from a muscle sprain/pull.

OLIVE OIL EXTRACT: Olive leaf extract also has the added benefit of improving wound healing such as cuts and abrasions. When I have a bad fall running, I often experience abrasions and muscle sprains. Olive Oil extract has helped alleviate some of the discomfort and appeared to quicken healing time of abrasions. It has also been shown to be effective in traditional burns as from hot liquids and burns to over exposure to the sun. It stimulates the components of connective tissue therefore increasing the vitality and health of the skin. The oleuropeoside aspect of olive oil causes vasodilation and muscle relaxation properties. It is also a rubefacient in that it warms the skin and increases blood flow making it good for sport and general muscle sprains and strains.

CAPSAICIN: I include a well known topical OTC medication called capsaicin. It is derived from cayenne, chili or red hot peppers. The definitive word is HOT. I, the ever inquisitive pharmacist (and sometimes fool), decided to dab an extremely small amount to my gums (contraindicated). It was an eye opening experience to say the least. It is to be used topically and comes in cream and ointment forms. All mucous membranes, eyes, genital areas, abraded or sensitive areas must be avoided. It is available in all health based stores and pharmacies. It is used to treat aches and pains of the muscles and joints. It works by decreasing a substance in our bodies commonly called Substance-P which passes pain signals to the brain. Also, I have had patients suffering from nerve end damage from illnesses such as shingles who used it with great success. However, the skin must be intact and not overly stretched/thin from inflammation. Always wash your hands after applying a THIN layer as one could inadvertently touch their eye or other sensitive area. I had one gentleman tell me that he went to urinate immediately after applying the cream and from his description probably looked like a ballet dancer on amphetamines. If this happens, rinse with water until pain decreases. It is a discomfort you will never forget. I, and patients I have recommended it to, have used capsaicin many times with great success.

WINTERGREEN LEAVES/OIL: The wintergreen oil is derived from the small leaves of the plant as pictured in the article (Picture 6). Even the leaves after steeping in water can be used as a type of poultice for certain topical problems. The oil derived contains 97% methyl salicylate. Methyl salicylate is available in many synthetic forms/muscle rubs. I like the natural wintergreen oil because of its added value as an aromatic. It is very pleasing and adds a psychological advantage synthetic forms do not. Though I have never personally made one, wintergreen can be used in poultices which can bring relief and speed up recovery for things such as boils, swellings, ulcers and sores. It has also successfully been used for insect and certain snake bites. Methyl salicylate is directly related to synthetic salicylates used in oral aspirin products. While potentially beneficial, internal use of aspirin also comes with more potential serious side effects such as prolonged bleeding. There are some internal uses of wintergreen (gastrointestinal) that have been shown to be successful but I will save that for a different article.

ARNICA: Arnica is applied to the skin for pain and swelling derived from bruises, sprains and arthritis. It can also be used for insect bites, chapped lips, cartilage pain and acne. In the correct form, it can be used for sore throats and mouth pain such as ulcers. As with wintergreen, it has a very pleasing aroma and therefore the all important psychological advantage.

There are many other natural topical remedies for topical aches and pains. Some of the names of these are: Bay Laurel, Birch bark and leaf, Boswellia, Clove, Corydalis, Devil's claw, Eucalyptus, Jamaican Dogwood, Peppermint, Pine, Rosemary, Turmeric, White Willow bark and last but not least the ever popular and effective Aloe Vera. I wanted to pick a few that I am familiar with and have seen successfully used. As with all medicines, whether OTC or RX, please work with a health professional or a person trained in herbal remedies. A gram of caution is worth a kilo of cure!


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    • Peter Grujic profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Alexander 

      2 years ago from Pittsburgh

      A weight lifter- wow! Congratulations on your endeavor! It is often best to try several to find the best that works for you! If you discover any that work I did not write about- and there are a number of them- Please let me know. Take Care!

    • profile image

      Susan Thompson 

      2 years ago

      I have recently started light weight lifting. I have used several of the herbals you write about. I prefer to stay with natural meds- Thanks for the article.


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