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What Ancient Healers knew that science is re-discovering about the treatment of sports injuries.

“… we investigated the use of natural anti-inflammatory agents for neurological sports related and other injuries. To our surprise, many such compounds are available and have been used effectively for centuries to reduce pain and inflammation. Additionally, we were able to find many peer-reviewed articles and clinical trials attesting to their effectiveness.”

From “Natural anti-inflammatory agents for pain relief in athletes”

Joseph C. Maroon et al. Neurosurgical Focus. Vol 21 October 2006.

Department of Neurosurgery, Presbyterian University Hospital. Pittsburgh

In this paper the authors looked at various natural anti-inflammatory agents that may be a good substitute for Non-steroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).

This is a very timely and interesting research paper because if you’re like me, a masters or older athlete or runner we can get a bit sore from time to time. I mean just getting out of bed some mornings can be an Olympian feat for me! This time of year many of us can feel a bit the worse for wear. If you’re a competitive crossfitter you’ve probably just come out of 2 or 3 competitions starting way back in February with the Open. If you’re a runner you may have completed an Ultra Trail or 2 or you might be getting into some serious training for the City2Surf or a half marathon or even a full marathon later this year.

Many master’s athletes use NSAID’s for pain relief and to reduce inflammation due to exercise and competition. However, it is now well recognised that over the counter and prescription anti-inflammatories may have some nasty side effects, especially for athletes.

From Dr Maroon’s Paper-

“Unfortunately, NSAID’s may be associated with significant complications including the following: gastrointestinal haemorrhage, myocardial infarction, and stroke.”

Besides these widely recognised side effects there are less well known but especially significant side effects for the master’s athlete and older exerciser. NSAIDs are still commonly used for the treatment of pain and inflammation arising from soft tissue injuries even despite various studies have shown that these drugs delay muscle regeneration and delay and hamper with healing in all soft tissues including muscle, ligaments, tendons and cartilage.

What can you do if you’ve picked up an injury during competition or training?

From the Maroon Paper again-

“For centuries, natural anti-inflammatory agents have been used to mediate the inflammatory process. More recently, many of these have been found to reduce inflammation in a similar manner to pharmacological agents but often with fewer side effects.”

Some of the natural agents noted in the paper are-

Omega-3 EFA’s (fish oil), white willow bark, Curcumin (turmeric), Green tea, Pycnogenol, Boswellia serrata resin, Uncaria tomentose (cat’s claw), and Capsaicin (chilli pepper).

While these natural substances are generally safe it is important that you get advice from a qualified health professional knowledgeable in this field before taking them.

Advice from Maroon and researchers-

“… their use (natural anti-inflammatory substances) requires knowledge of their biological action, clinical studies (both affirmative and negative), and potential interactions with other nutraceutical products and prescription medications.”

So, what else can you do if you are injured and don’t want to take the risk of nasty side effects?

How about trying – “vis medicatrix naturae”? – it’s also something the ancient healers knew about and is having a big resurgence in modern times.

“Vis mediacatrix naturae” isn’t the latest wonder drug from a mysterious Russian website, it’s a latin phrase that means “the healing power of nature”.

One of the big messages for me from this research paper is that the human body has some pretty awesome natural healing properties.

As outlined in this paper one of the lesser known but now well recognised side effects of anti-inflammatories is they impair the natural healing of soft tissues and bone.

Maroon again,

“The mechanism for this effect (impaired soft tissue healing) is as follows: by taking powerful NSAID’s the patient does not permit the body to mount any- or at best a very limited- inflammatory response, which is generally believed to be necessary as a prelude to healing because it draws the white blood cells into the injured area to start the repair process.

….. by day 4 after a muscle strain (treated with NSAIDs) there was very little muscle regeneration compared with that seen in the normal healing process.. and muscle strength at this time was 40% of normal.”

Mother nature does know best after all. Our innate physiological response to injury does a very good job of healing our aches and pains, stresses and strains in all except the most extreme of injuries.

Most often rest and recuperation are all we need to allow our inbuilt healing mechanism to get on with the job of mending our poor old abused muscles and joints.

While NSAID’s and painkillers may afford temporary pain relief overall the harm may outweigh any benefits. That said if you feel that you really must take something this paper provides some information on natural alternatives to the drug approach.

But me- I’m going to trust in vis medicatrix naturae.

The Maroon paper can be found here-

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