Following up from last week, where I wrote about herbs for athletic performance, this week I want to talk about injuries. Because they happen to the best of us. I've seen some seriously gnarly injuries over the years, from my own torn LCL, to a separated AC joint with an inch separating the acromion and the clavicle (I almost threw up when I stuck my finger in there) to a full on broken back. Some of these things needed surgery (like the AC joint) and some didn't (like the broken back and my LCL). Injuries are often complex, and can be debilitating. Not only that but they bring up a whole range of emotions, from anger to depression, because let's face it, for those of us who love being active, the thought of having to rest, lose strength, lose flexibility and sit still for days on end can be miserable. From my own personal practice, and talking to people who have been in practice for a lot longer than me (either as herbalists or instructors) here are some of the things that work best.
HERBS FOR PAIN AND TISSUE REPAIR
Solomon's seal. This is, hands down, my favourite herb for musculoskeletal injuries. I put my 2 month LCL recovery down to this herb alone (well that and hydrotherapy and the other stuff I list here). It is the best thing I've ever used for ligament and tendon issues, will help heal torn muscles and repair broken bones. For bad injuries, I'll use a tincture internally and a salve (with goldenrod and cottonwood and alder too) externally. Remember that guy I told you about with the separated AC joint? Well although he wasn't fully healed without surgery, using solomon's seal restored some sort of function to his left arm, and he carried on training up until the day before his surgery.
Goldenrod. For those aches that keep you up at night, goldenrod infused oil is downright amazing, topically. There were some nights when my torn LCL would ache so badly I was writhing, and goldenrod reduced the pain enough to let me sleep. It also helps repair torn muscles.
Teasel. For torn muscles. I've used a salve with teasel, goldenrod and cottonwood for a really badly torn gastrocnemius and other minor tears with great success.
St. John's wort. St. John's wort is seriously brilliant for agonizing nerve pain. It also helps repair damaged tissues with a quickness. I use it both externally (oil) and internally (tincture).
Comfrey leaf. For breaks and tears--there's a reason it's called 'knit bone'. I do tincture internally and salve externally*.
Cottonwood. Oil or liniment. Topically, for pain. Amazing.
Tobacco leaf. Oil. To be honest, using tobacco topically makes me feel nauseous, but plenty of other people seem to do fine with it, and it's definitely numbing.
The most important thing while injured is to get enough protein and fat so that your body is adequately nourished to repair itself. Eat high quality wild or grass-fed meats, high quality animal fats and butter fats, with lots of vegetables. Also, bone broth- it's delicious to sip on, and provides lots of amino acids and collagen and building blocks for your body to heal itself faster.
I'm not a fan of taking anti-inflammatories, be them herbal or pharmaceutical. Here's why:
A certain amount of inflammation helps your body heal faster. Inflammatory cells (macrophages) produce a large amount of insulin like growth factor (IGF-1) which in turn repair injuries faster. I am fully convinced that the body knows best how to handle things like injuries, and inflammation seems to be its way of having resources sent to the areas that need them. Instead of reducing the inflammation, you can do things that HELP the body's natural healing processes like the following:
Hydrotherapy. The basic principle of hydrotherapy is simple: Blast the area for 2 minutes with water as hot as you can handle, and then a 30-second blast with freezing cold water. Do this as many times a day as you can. It stimulates circulation to the area, speeding healing and reducing pain. You wouldn't think that a simple bit of water would help, but I've seen it work over and over again, and really shortens recovery time.
Movement. When injured, after the initial inflammation has gone down, gentle movement can really help. I'm not talking about flinging oneself back into full practice-mode (or full workout mode), but adjusting ones practice and really using the time to listen to the body and move at a snail's pace. With myself that meant doing a yoga practice with some serious modifications (my knee couldn't support my weight at some angles, and any kind of lateral motion would re-tear), paying really close attention to what I was doing and how it was feeling. I got to the point where I could feel when inflammation was starting, and that was when I knew to stop. You don't want to reinjure yourself or set yourself back, but having your body send more resources to the area is a good thing.
Rest. Chances are, if you're type-A like me, the thought of sitting still makes you frustrated, especially when you've got a to-do list the length of Santa's gift list. Guess what? You won't heal if you don't rest. Use this time to ask people for help. It's humbling and it sucks, but the majority of people will be glad to. Use this time to watch movies and write lists and plan for how you're going to LAUNCH into action when you're back on your feet. But for now, take it easy dude.
A LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE
Being injured doesn't always mean being set back. It can mean having to change some things. This isn't always a bad thing. For example: tearing my LCL was, at the time, debilitating. I hadn't realised beforehand that half of the hip-opening poses I'd been doing by actually cranking my knee joint. My hips, which I thought were getting more flexible over the years, weren't much more open than they were when I started. My knees, however, were getting stretched in the wrong direction every single day. Pain can be a wake-up call that you're not doing something right. It can be really easy to get mad at the area that's hurting, but there's a bigger picture here- you're the one USING that area, and maybe there's a more efficient way to do so. Within a few months of being back on the mat properly, my practice was infinitely stronger, more stable and more open than it had been before. What had started out as a huge inconvenience was actually an eye-opener, and I'm so grateful that it happened!
For the bulk herbs mentioned, Mountain Rose Herbs pretty much carries all of them.
To get Solomon's Seal tincture, go HERE.
To get my Busted Joint Ointment, which provides healing and pain relief (and contains a lot of the ingredients listed), go HERE.
My favourite book on chronic musculo-skeletal issues and repetitive use injuries. I can't recommend this book enough, really truly. It's changed my life, and those of SO many friends and clients.
*There's a lot of information out there about comfrey root causing liver failure. I recommend people read up on it themselves and decide whether they want to take the leaf internally or not. I do it, but that's me.