If one were to follow the prevailing wisdom regarding injuries to muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments, one would apply ice to the affected region in the acute phase, heat in the later stages, and administer painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs for symptomatic relief. This protocol stems from conventional medicine’s one-size-fits-all desire for uniformity. Problems can occur, however, when this stereotype clashes with reality, because all injuries are not necessarily the same.
The key lesson that I have learned repeatedly from homeopathic practice is that each individual health condition manifests in a manner that is unique to that person. In other words, some injuries are soothed by heat while others are aggravated by heat, regardless of whether it occurred a week ago or an hour ago. Some are soothed by cold applications and others are made worse by cold. While it is true that the majority of strains and sprains fit the above protocol, there are, nevertheless, a good number that do not.
Although the two terms are commonly taken to mean the same thing, technically speaking, a sprain is an injury to a ligament or joint while a strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon. Ligaments connect bone to bone and tendons connect muscle to bone. For the sake of simplicity, I will focus here on just a few commonly indicated homeopathic medicines for musculoskeletal injuries. Whether we are assessing a sprained knee, wrist, ankle, or any other body part, the most valuable clues needed for accurate homeopathic prescribing are the factors that make the condition feel better and/or worse. Most commonly, this involves the effects of heat, cold, and motion upon the injured part. The following homeopathic medicines can be differentiated by these factors that modify pain and discomfort:
Arnica montana: For starters, in the earliest stage immediately after an injury occurs, it is a good bet that several doses of Arnica over the course of the first few hours will do a great deal of good—and certainly no harm. It can relieve the pain, swelling, inflammation, and discoloration that come with sprains and strains. Depending upon the severity of an injury, a lot of times that is all that is needed to facilitate a quick and easy recovery. Of course, sometimes a medical evaluation is needed if a broken bone, tear, or serious sprain is suspected.
Bryonia alba: This homeopathic medicine is best suited to injuries that result in the desire to keep the affected body part immobilized. Any motion causes the pain to get worse. If it’s a sprained knee or ankle, the person will not walk on it. The pain can be severe and the person wants the affected part to remain perfectly still. There may be a desire to apply pressure to the injury but this is usually done to prevent motion. Lying in bed at night is not an issue because motion is kept to a minimum. The person prefers cold applications to soothe the discomfort. This medicine is more likely to be indicated in the early stages immediately after an injury has occurred.
Rhus toxicodendron: This homeopathic medicine is interesting because the indications for its use are almost the opposite to that of Bryonia. The pain and stiffness are worse at rest, worse upon initial motion, better from continued motion, but worse again from overuse. The injured part cannot be kept still for too long. Motion brings temporary relief. The classic scenario is the person with a knee sprain who cannot sit comfortably for more than a few minutes. The injured part has a tendency to tighten or stiffen when at rest. This gives the impression of someone who is physically restless. Frequent changes of position, such as shifting back and forth while sitting, or tossing and turning in bed, alleviate the pain momentarily. The pain tends to worsen upon first moving around, but continued careful motion allows the pain and stiffness to gradually diminish. The person wants to “walk the pain off” and sometimes stretch the stiff muscles, but overdoing it can re-aggravate the problem. Heat helps improve the pain and stiffness while cold aggravates the problem.
Bryonia alba and Rhus toxicodendron are known to be “complementary” medicines, which is to say that they often work well in sequence. Bryonia is usually best for the initial stage of acute pain, and Rhus tox works well in later stages when stiffness has set in.
Ruta graveolens: This homeopathic medicine represents a subtle variation that is not quite the same as Bryonia or Rhus tox. The pain is only made worse from certain specific motions but not all motion. Ruta works well for tendon problems as in the case of a sprained wrist, tennis elbow, or Carpal tunnel syndrome. There may be stiffness and soreness but there is mostly a “sprained” feeling that becomes aggravated by moving the affected part in just the wrong way. Applied warmth may ameliorate and cold can aggravate the condition.
It is not unusual for the effects of sprains and strains to linger over long periods of time, never quite fully resolving. Such conditions are often prone to reinjury. By being armed with the knowledge of just a few commonly indicated first aid homeopathic medicines, one can head off a great deal of pain and suffering. Perhaps most importantly, when treated in a timely fashion, acute injuries can be prevented from becoming chronic ailments. All medicines discussed here are FDA approved over-the-counter preparations that can be purchased at most natural health stores.
Larry Malerba, DO is a leader in the field of holistic medicine who seeks to build bridges between spirituality, science, and healing. He is the author of Green Medicine: Challenging the Assumptions of Conventional Health Care. He blogs for Huffington Post and Natural News. He is board certified in Homeotherapeutics. www.docmalerba.com