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Comfrey Ointment for Pain Relief

May 27, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Occasional aches and pains are an expected part of life. But sometimes these discomforts take a while to heal. In the meantime, life goes on. Modern medicine has addressed this common problem by offering many over-the-counter pain remedies, which can be quite effective. The trouble is that even non-prescriptive medications may not be suitable for everyone. Fortunately, there is a scientifically validated, natural remedy that offers a safe and effective alternative to these drugs.

It’s become customary to pop a pill whenever we’re in pain. It doesn’t matter if we’re experiencing arthritic symptoms, a back ache, a headache or even muscle soreness from overexertion. The oral route of administration is by far the most popular pathway to extinguish inflammation and pain. But in the past, applying a therapeutic compound to the site of pain was often the first-line approach. A new study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine examines whether a traditional remedy might have an application in modern times. The objective of this newly published research is to determine the efficacy of a comfrey root ointment. (1)

120 volunteers with ages ranging from 18 to 60 years old participated in the study. The one thing they had in common was back pain of an undefined origin. This means that the painful symptoms were not caused by any known physical abnormality (such as a “slipped disc”) or the result of a traumatic injury.

The participants were divided into 2 groups. One group received the comfrey root ointment and the other utilized a placebo (inactive) ointment. All of the volunteers applied 4 grams of the respective ointments on the pain site, three times daily for a total of 5 days. Neither the researchers nor the participants knew which ointment they were using until after the completion of the trial. This is referred to as a “double blind, placebo controlled study”. It’s considered the gold standard of scientific experiments.

Prior to the start of the study, during and afterward, all the back pain sufferers were assessed by doctors using tests such as the Visual Analog Scale and the Oswestry Disability Index. They were also asked to quantify their level of discomfort both during times of activity and rest. At the end of the study, the researchers discovered the following reactions to the two ointments:

  • The level of both lower and upper back pain was reduced by 95% in the comfrey ointment users. Those applying the placebo reported pain reduction of 38%.
  • The degree of back pain reduction while at rest was 97% in the comfrey group and 40% in the placebo participants.
  • The pain relieving effect of the comfrey topical was apparent within a one hour time frame.

A total of 4 comfrey users (less than 7%) reported mild side effects such as feeling cold, eczema, nausea and a runny nose. Three people using the placebo also reported adverse reactions – headaches and itchiness.

The authors of the study concluded that, “Comfrey root extract shows a remarkably potent and clinically relevant effect in reducing acute back pain”.

A 2005 trial found similar results in a group of 215 participants with lower and upper back muscular pain (myalgia). In that experiment, the researchers found “highly relevant” reductions in inflammation and pain. They also concluded that the comfrey test ointment was fast-acting and well tolerated. (2)

Back pain isn’t the only variety of discomfort that responds to comfrey root topicals. Over the past several years, it has become apparent that this herbal ointment may be useful for all sorts of inflammation. It could even possibly play a role in promoting wound healing. Here’s a brief overview of what traditional healers have known for many years and what scientists are just discovering:

  • Ankle Sprains - Three recent trials involving approximately 500 participants concluded that comfrey ointment was beneficial in the management of ankle sprains. One such study even found that comfrey outperformed a conventional medication (Diclofenac), which is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used to reduce acute inflammation and pain. It’s also worth noting that the tolerability of the comfrey preparations was deemed as excellent. (3,4,5)
  • Arthritis - A 2007 study in the journal Phytomedicine reported that applying 2 grams of comfrey ointment 3 times a day could help reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee. This particular experiment was conducted on 220 female and male patients with an average age of 58. An improvement in mobility and quality of life were noted, in addition to a reduction in pain. (6)
  • Wound Healing - Most pain relieving medications aren’t intended to hasten healing time. A German trial from 2007 indicates that comfrey may be an exception to this convention. A trial involving 278 patients with “fresh abrasions” found a “highly significant and clinically relevant” reduction in wound size in those applying a comfrey-based ointment (as compared to a placebo ointment). The effects were evident after only 2-3 days. (7)

Comfrey ointment is an example of a old-time remedy that may prove invaluable in today’s world. Modern living and a less than optimal diet and lifestyle already put a significant burden on the body. Taking unnecessary medications can only add to that physiological stress. In comfrey root, we have a new/old option which may allow us to bypass typical pain relievers and give our bodies a much needed break.

Be well!

JP

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23 Comments to “Comfrey Ointment for Pain Relief”

  1. Abe Says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I am really in search for some pain relief but I do not like to take prescribed medicine with all those side effects. I will give this a try.

  2. JP Says:

    You’re most welcome, Abe.

    I hope it works out well for, if you try it.

    Be well!

    JP

  3. Iggy Dalrymple Says:

    Tried to find out what oil was used in the ointment but couldn’t find out. Lately I’ve successfully been using castor oil topically at the recommendation of Dr Art Ayers’ blog. I wonder how comfrey extract mixed in castor oil might work? Also might try mixing comfrey extract with DMSO gel.

    Just trying to save $……if it’s from Merck, it won’t be cheap.

  4. JP Says:

    Iggy,

    There are many comfrey ointments on the market. I believe the (German) Merck product is in a base of peanut oil but I couldn’t confirm that for sure.

    I saw one online source selling this product for $17.50 per 50g tube. It’s probably much cheaper in Europe. :)

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Glenn Fernandes Says:

    Informative article. Yes, I agree we normally tend to take a pill for headache, stomachache etc. We never find any other solutions to it. Comfrey ointment seems to be very useful. Will definitely try it out.

  6. JP Says:

    Please let me know how it turns out for you, Glenn.

    Thanks and be well!

    JP

  7. Ali Elg Says:

    I have used a Fresh Comfrey Root Extract gel for years and the company that manufactured it no longer does [A.Vogel] Can you recommend a brand name? I have searched but have yet to find one that is mostly comfrey.

  8. JP Says:

    Ali,

    The name of the (German) product I mentioned in my blog is Kytta Salbe. It may be hard to find in the USA however.

    I’ve heard/read good things about the GAIA brand comfrey ointment. The ingredients look solid. But please keep in mind that it’s not a cream, like the A.Vogel product.

    If that doesn’t work out for you, let me know and I’ll see if I can come up some other options.

    Be well!

    JP

  9. Chuck Says:

    Hi

    Just wanted to add how I’ve used Comfrey for many years – sprains, bruising, and exceptionally good at healing burns on the skin. Brilliant stuff, everyone should have a jar!

    Chuck

  10. JP Says:

    Thanks, Chuck!

    It’s always helpful to have testimonials about natural remedies!

    Be well!

    JP

  11. sheila Says:

    I love you JP

  12. JP Says:

    Thanks, Sheila! :)

    I love writing these columns and having the chance to spend some quality online time with y’all! I truly consider it a gift.

    Be well!

    JP

  13. Sharri Says:

    My husband had surgery – torn archilles tendon.
    He developed wound site complications – a big hole!
    He had wound therapy using a machine to draw out the
    excess fluid excretions at wound site. Eventually had
    plastic surgery – skin graft. Again the use of wound machine.
    The wound kept festering and weeping. I am at my wits end and
    eventually bought the ointment and oil at a pharmacy.
    He had the archilles repair op in Oct, 2nd 2009 and the skin graft
    beg Dec 2009. It is now 05 Jan 2010 and I am hopeful that this comfrey
    ointment will work. The weepiness has stopped since use of ointment day 1 and soaked in salt wate solution a lot of straggly bits (yellow, dead skin) came off in the water. I will keep you posted on
    his improvement. P.S. I am hoping we do not have to have a second skin graft.

  14. JP Says:

    Sharri,

    I certainly hope the comfrey ointment helps. Please also consider supporting the healing process by utilizing optimal nutrition – both with diet and the judicious use of supplements. Many nutrients play an essential role in proper wound healing. Getting adequate or slightly above average amounts (during the healing process) should only help, in my opinion.

    Be well!

    JP

  15. David Says:

    I have just started using Comfrey on long term chronic inflammation around the knee, similar to patellar tendonitis. Too early to know the results, but I can suggest a brand name.

    In Australia, the distributors are http://www.herbalsupplies.com.au, made by Hilde Hemmes Herbals.

    Hope it helps.

  16. Haakon Smith Says:

    How do I order Comfrey ointment online?

  17. JP Says:

    Haakon,

    You should be able to find it at most of the major online health food stores. Most sites that sell nutritional supplements will also carry comfrey ointment. If you have any trouble finding a reputable online site, feel free to e-mail me (via the contact page) and I’ll provide you with a few options.

    Be well!

    JP

  18. Shirls Says:

    I make my own comfrey ointment ans oil, Instructions as follows.
    Fill a jar with chopped comfrey leaves and fill thejar will olive oil.
    Sit in the sun for a week or more. Strain….Here is your oil. Olive oil is also good for the joints.
    If you want ointment, find a bees wax candle , grate about i/4 of a cup and mix with i/2 a cup of your oil mixture, heat slowly over a double boiler. Baby food jars are perfect for storing the cream in. You can make it to your own consistancy as you go along. Cheers
    Ps comfrey is very easy to grow

  19. JP Says:

    Thank you for the useful tips, Shirls! Much appreciated!

    Be well!

    JP

  20. Deb Rose Says:

    Please tell me where comfrey root ointment or cream can be purchased in the USA?

  21. JP Says:

    Deb,

    You should be able to find it at a local health food store or online – via Internet source. A few options:

    http://www.iherb.com/Gaia-Herbs-Comfrey-Compounded-Salve-2-oz/11763?at=0

    http://www.vitacost.com/Country-Comfort-Herbal-Savvy-Comfrey-Aloe-Vera-2-oz

    Be well!

    JP

  22. Ruth Naude Says:

    Hi JP! Have just bought a jar of comfrey ointment to use on a spot of skin cancer on my throat from overexposure to the sun in my youth. It appeared about ten years ago and I’ve had it burnt by my doctor about four times over the years. After the first application last night it started to burn and went red and this morning it was still red but not so sore any more. Should this be expected? Is the comfrey drawing out the evil underneath? How long do you think it will take before I start seeing an improvement?

    Kind regards, Ruth

  23. JP Says:

    Ruth,

    I wouldn’t advise using comfrey ointment on cancerous tissue. I don’t know of any positive data to support this practice. If you haven’t already done so, please discuss this recurrence with your doctor.

    Be well!

    JP

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