Comfrey Ointment for Pain ReliefMay 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.
Tags: Arthritis, Inflammation, Pain
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Bone and Joint Health