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Healing Muscles and Joints


Strains, sprains—these common injuries can throw a wrench into your everyday routine. Each comes with its own set of challenges. Learn the difference between the two, and how nourishing foods and herbs can aid recovery to get you back to your active self.

In addition to everyday wear and tear, living is meant to stretch the body's boundaries and test its limits. Young or old, injury inevitably occurs, often in the form of strains or sprains. The difference between a strain and a sprain is one of intensity and location. Strains cause the muscle fibres to overstretch and tear. A strained muscle tends to cramp and feel stiff after exercise, but there is usually no obvious injury that causes the pain. The muscles of the lower back, groin and limbs are often subject to strains.

Sprains occur when the ligaments, which hold the bones in place, are torn or stretched beyond their capacity. Mild sprains appear swollen and tender but, if the ligament is even partially torn, there is substantial swelling, bruising and great pain on using the affected limb. If the joint is unstable and impossible to use, the ligament is probably completely torn and will need surgical intervention. Ligaments heal slowly because they are poorly supplied with blood vessels, so proper rest is important. Ankles, wrists and fingers are most susceptible to sprains. The ligaments of the knees are prone to sprains and tears. The muscles are also subject to injury from overuse.

Muscle strains occur most easily when the muscle is used without a proper warm-up. Warm-ups circulate the blood, increasing the muscle's ability to stretch. Sudden, awkward movements, overexerting a muscle or a hard fall can cause sprains and strains. Injuries are more likely to happen when the body is overtired from excessive physical exercise. Once a joint is injured badly or is not given time to heal properly, it is susceptible to repeated injury. Sufficient rest from a sprain or strain is absolutely necessary for complete healing and to prevent long-term problems.


Nutrients for Recovery

Muscle and joint injuries heal better and more quickly when the proper nutrients are supplied, whether as part of a healthy diet or through supplementation. Start your day with an oatmeal muesli with added wheat germ. Wheat germ contains octacosanol, which increases muscle oxygenation and helps prevent strains. Wheat germ is also a good source of vitamin E, an essential vitamin for healing. Oats provide silicon, which supports connective tissue formation. Alkaline foods, including fresh fruits, raw juices and multicoloured vegetables, help to offset the negative effects of acidic waste, which increases in the blood during exercise. Eat chromium-rich foods such as cheese and nutritional yeast to help the body use glucose more efficiently during exercise, preventing unnecessary strains and sprains.

Vitamin C and bioflavonoids, found in berries, broccoli, cantaloupe, mangos and dark leafy greens, are essential for the repair of connective tissue and to reduce inflammation. In supplement form, take 500 mg every few hours, up to 5,000 mg. Vitamins E and A are also important nutrients for connective tissue and cell repair. Vitamin E helps prevent internal scarring. Good food sources of vitamin E are alfalfa sprouts, avocados, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and dark leafy green vegetables, or take 400 IU with mixed tocopherols twice daily. Foods rich in vitamin A include fish oils and green and yellow fruits and vegetables, or take 25,000 IU daily (avoid during pregnancy).

The omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid, are important for tissue elasticity, muscle flexibility, joint motion and regulating inflammatory response. Fresh organic oils including flax seed, hemp, olive and balanced blends are good choices. Algae and cold-water fish also supply essential fats. Evening primrose oil, two 500 mg capsules three times daily, supplies gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a building block for the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. If a strong anti-inflammatory is necessary, the enzyme bromelain from fresh pineapple is recommended, 1,000 mg three times daily between meals to combat swelling and pain after an injury.


Herbs for Healing

It will take time to heal a sprain or strain. Herbal remedies greatly assist in healing the affected part and in rebuilding tissue.

    • Rub peppermint oil on the skin for a local anesthetic.

    • Massage the area with a mixture of five drops of essential oils such as thyme, lavender or sage in one tablespoon (15 ml) of almond or olive oil to relieve pain.

    • Rub St John's wort oil on the affected area to relieve pain and relax muscles and nerves.

    • After 24 hours, apply hot, moist compresses with a calendula salve to absorb the blood from the bruised area.

    • Add five drops each of comfrey and thyme essential oils to a hot bath to stimulate blood flow to the affected area. This will speed healing and repair damaged tissue.

    • The silica contained in horsetail is excellent to help rebuild tissue. Take 15 drops of tincture diluted in water three times daily for a couple of weeks.

    • Curcumin is a herbal extract of turmeric and is as effective as cortisone for anti-inflammatory needs but without the cortisone side-effects. Take 500 mg five times daily.

    • A paste made of fresh crushed eucalyptus or camphor leaves mixed with three whipped egg whites stimulates lymph and blood circulation for quick healing.

    • Use Arnica lotion for mild strains or muscle soreness. Homeopathic Arnica is effective following a sprain or injury from overuse. The pain is worse when using the muscle. Strains and sprains with swelling, bruising and pain usually heal more quickly after several doses of Arnica.

Cool, moist applications of clay, fresh cabbage leaves or quark also help reduce inflammation. After inflammation recedes, gentle movement exercises and massage are recommended.

Life is for living. Go for it stretch your body's boundaries knowing that if necessary, you can overcome strains and sprains with nutrition and natural healing methods.



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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD