Tight, aching muscles and painful tendons, which connect muscle to bone, are common problems, especially after vigorous exercise. When you start to feel muscular pain, apply ice for 10 to 20 minutes and then look to herbal remedies to help. The best herbs to relax tendons and muscles include those that have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Hundreds of scientific papers on bromelain’s therapeutic applications have appeared in medical literature. In these studies, bromelain, a mixture of protein-digesting enzymes found in pineapples, was reported to have many benefits, such as preventing and reducing inflammation associated with minor muscle injuries and tendinitis. It does not appear to have a direct analgesic effect, but it has been shown to reduce pain by reducing edema and tissue inflammation.
The amount of bromelain in pineapple is not enough to have a medicinal effect when relaxing muscle and tendon pain. However, you can buy it online or at most health food stores in the forms of capsules and tablets. For injuries, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends 500 milligrams four times a day on an empty stomach or between meals. Side effects are generally mild and may include excessive menstrual bleeding, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If you are allergic to pineapple, do not take.
Curcumin is the yellow pigment of turmeric (Curcuma longa). It reduces inflammation by inhibiting the production of leukotrienes and improving the body’s own anti-inflammatory mechanisms. In addition, it repairs damaged muscle and acts as a powerful antioxidant. Curcumin has been found by many studies to be as effective as the drugs hydrocortisone, phenylbutazone and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like Motrin. Curcumin produces no toxicity, whereas the drugs can lead to significant toxic effects such as ulcer formation and intestinal bleeding. The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine recommends 200 to 400 milligrams three times per day between meals.
Ginger is a member of the turmeric family. Not only does it contain anti-inflammatory compounds, it also contains gingerols, which are volatile oils that show analgesic effects in animal studies. According to one study involving people with muscle pain caused by eccentric exercise, consuming 2 grams of ginger a day resulted in moderate-to-large reductions in muscle pain after an exercise-induced muscle injury.
Ginger can also be used externally to help relax muscle and tendon pain. Pour 2 cups of boiling water over 2 teaspoons of freshly grated root. Cover and steep for 5 to 10 minutes. Pour the tea into bathwater and soak for 20 to 30 minutes.
Devil’s claw, a plant native to southern Africa, is used to help relieve inflammation and pain in people with painful disorders, such as low back pain. In one small study involving 63 people with mild-to-moderate back, shoulder or neck pain, a standardized extract of devil’s claw root given for four weeks provided moderate relief from muscle pain. In another study involving 197 adults with chronic low back pain, those who took devil’s claw every day for a month experienced less pain and needed fewer pain drugs than those who took the placebo.
This herb is available in the forms of tablets, capsules, liquid extracts and topical ointments. To prepare a cup of tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried root, cover and steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Drink up to three cups of tea a day. When taken over short periods of times, devil’s claw is nontoxic and is considered generally safe if taken at the recommended doses. Side effects are rare, but if taken in high doses, it can cause mild gastrointestinal problems in some people.
Other herbs with analgesic and/or anti-inflammatory properties include:
Dong Quai - Contains ferulic acid, a muscle relaxer and pain reliever.
Grape Seed - Contains flavonoids that reduce inflammation and stabilize collagen structures. Collagen is the major protein in tendons.
Arnica - Used topically as a cream, ointment, salve, liniment or tincture to reduce inflammation and soothe muscle aches.
Ashwagandha - This Ayurvedic herb is used to relieve inflammation, relax muscles, ease pain and prevent muscle spasms.
Lavender, feverfew, ginseng, licorice, fennel, comfrey, rose hip, chamomile, St. John’s wort, wintergreen and witch hazel are other herbs used to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, are giving to a child, have a medical condition or are taking medications, consult your health care provider before taking any herbs to relax tendons and muscles.
Michael Murray, N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D. “Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine” Prima Publishing 1998
University of Maryland Medical Center: Bromelain - https://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/bromelain-000289.htm
Pub Med: Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces muscle pain caused by eccentric exercise. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20418184
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