by Emlyn Thomas, RSHom, DPhysEd
My introduction to homeopathy was a dramatic one. While skiing in Austria 20 years ago I tackled a very steep ridge. Suddenly there was a stony outcrop that I could not avoid, and I ended up on only one ski, with my right leg in a very odd position. When I retrieved the other ski, I found that my knee was extremely painful. From my experience in rehabilitation work and physical education training, I realized that my medial cartilage meniscus—one of two “shock absorbers” in the knee joint—was damaged. I could also feel the notch in the medial collateral ligament (one of four ligaments that stabilize the knee joint) and realized that I had suffered a minor tear. Every movement, even sitting, was painful.
When I returned home and visited the doctor, he confirmed my fears and recommended painkillers and a pressure bandage. This would mean using crutches for “probably six weeks.”
While the nurse was strapping the padding and crepe bandages to my leg, she suggested that a homeopathic remedy could help. “You could get some Ruta graveolens and take 3 tablets a day,” she said. Always happy to take advice from nurses, I did as I was told. The next day the pain stopped. The pressure bandage stayed off, and the crutches languished unused.
Three days later I started to run gingerly, and I was playing rugby again after two weeks! I found a book about homeopathy and began a journey that has not yet finished.
Having prescribed Ruta graveolens many hundreds of times since this first experience, I am still amazed by its effects on tendons and cartilage, and I wonder why so many athletes of all grades and standards remain ignorant of this wonderful remedy. It could bring them back to active exercise and performance so quickly and effectively. One hears of soccer players whose careers are endangered because of repetitive tendon injury or cartilage injury, and of dancers who are injured yet continue to dance through pain so as not to lose their jobs. One must ask, “Why do their rehabilitation doctors and physical therapists not know about Ruta graveolens and all the other effective and safe homeopathic remedies that could restore their patients to health and competition?”
The homeopathic remedy Ruta graveolens is prepared from common rue, an herb native to southern Europe that has been used medicinally through the ages. Ruta graveolens will aid the recovery of any injury—whether from trauma or overuse—that involves connective tissue, such as tendons, cartilage, and periosteum (the thin layer covering bones). It acts well on the main joints—ankles, wrists, shoulders, and hips. The person needing Ruta graveolens usually feels a deep bruising sensation and stiffness or lameness of the joint. They feel worse from cold, lying, sitting, and exertion, and better from warmth and massage. Emotionally, they may be cranky and moody, unwilling to do rehab exercises and saying things like, “This is probably the end of my playing days.” In my experience, Ruta graveolens can have the immediate effect of making the person believe he will recover when he is most depressed and despondent about his injury. He begins to want to get better, to exercise, and to do physical therapy.
More perplexing questions
As a homeopath and athlete, I find it extraordinary that coaches, trainers, physical therapists, and team physicians can afford to remain ignorant of the possibilities for quicker recovery that homeopathic medicine offers. The costs of injuries to the individuals and their clubs are enormous.
And it is not only Ruta graveolens that could help so many professional and weekend sports enthusiasts. Why do athletes and dancers, or even recreational joggers, not use Arnica? It would do so much to keep them active.
One hears of dancers who are injured yet continue to dance through pain so as not to lose their jobs.
I took a call from the mother of a rugby player. Her son, who played for a Premiership team in the UK and hoped to become an international player, had started getting knee pain after every training session and game. His physio doctor had given him a bleak diagnosis, suggesting possible surgery with uncertain outcome. I asked this young player some questions such as: “Can you describe the pain?” (deep soreness and stiffness); “When do you get the pain?” (after working out, especially after hard practices); “Does any particular movement make it worse?” (using the stairs); “Does anything make it feel better?” (heating pads, massage). I sent him some Ruta graveolens 30c, just 4 tablets, one to be taken night and morning, for 2 days. I also suggested that when he resumed training and playing, he should take Arnica 30c before and after every training session or game (as this would help prevent muscle stiffness or internal bruising that accompanies overexertion) until the pain ceased or he forgot to take the remedy. This is a typical prescription for me to make.
The treatment was very effective. This player was later selected as an international and went on to play in the England team that won the Rugby World Cup.
Yes! I know. We are taught to give single remedies and doses. But I believe that Samuel Hahnemann, in his later practice, often gave patients more than one remedy early in the patient’s treatment.*
In my experience with sports injuries, Ruta graveolens often works well in combination with other remedies, as in the following case. William, aged 40, was a very active mountaineer, rock climber, and skier. To keep fit, he played badminton once a week, and played very vigorously. Stretching forward for a stroke one day, he felt pain, “as if someone had slammed my leg with a hammer.” He was diagnosed with a partial tear of his right Achilles tendon. He was offered the choice of restorative or conservative treatment by the orthopaedic surgeon, and, naturally for an active person, he chose restorative surgery, although this might mean a longer recovery period.
He consulted me almost immediately after the procedure, since he was dissatisfied with the prognosis of inactivity for the next 3 months and an uncertain outlook for the future.
I prescribed Arnica 200c, two doses (once at night and once in the morning), followed by Ruta graveolens 30c, once daily for 3 days. Then I prescribed Symphytum officinale 30c, once daily for 7 days, followed by nothing for 7 days, and then a repeat of the Symphytum 30c for 7 days. I chose Arnica to address the initial trauma including swelling and bleeding into the tissues that occurs with any such injury and with the surgery; Ruta graveolens to deal with the injury and stretching to the tendon itself; and Symphytum for its ability to help fuse the partially torn tendon ends back together.
William had a cast fitted to his lower leg below the knee. I encouraged him to continue weight training and to exercise the rest of his body, especially the part of his leg unaffected by the injury. He did this so enthusiastically that he called me after 3 weeks to say that he was doing as many as 300 straight-leg lifts with weights in a session. That worried me! I suggested he should moderate the exercise!
William was walking unsupported six weeks after the accident and returned to full activity, including hiking and rock climbing, ten weeks after injury—much earlier and with much more function than his doctors had predicted. He is now fully fit.
Repairing damaged tissue
I took a call from Lydia in her early 40s who was a keen equestrian. She had had a fall in a cross-country event some three months previously and had suffered a fracture to her thigh bone (femur). Despite hospitalization and good treatment by her orthopedist with proper realignment of the bones and immobilization of the area with a cast, the bone ends were not fusing and a satisfactory callus (i.e., early bone growth as a fracture begins to heal) refused to form.
Lydia reported feeling otherwise well; in fact, she said she was “fine apart from not being able to ride.” She obviously needed Arnica montana; the patient who needs Arnica has suffered traumatic injury but almost always replies that they are fine despite being obviously in need of help.
What potency of Arnica did she need?
It is my experience that the choice of potency for Arnica works according to a rough rule of thumb, as follows:
• Immediately, as soon as possible after injury—6c or 30c potency.
• One to three months after injury—200c.
• Three months to a year later—1M.
• One year and longer afterwards—10M.
In Lydia’s case, since it was 3 months since her injury, I prescribed Arnica 200c, 2 doses, once at night and once in the morning.
This was followed by the second element of the prescription protocol: Symphytum officinale 30c, one pill daily for 14 days, nothing for 7 days, and then Symphytum 30c once daily for a further 14 days.
Six weeks after the first prescription, Lydia reported, very happily, that her fracture was resolving well. She was walking comfortably again, and best of all, she was riding horses again.
I have used this protocol several times since, always with excellent results for repairing fractured bones and torn tendons.
Symphytum knits more than bones
Symphytum is the homeopathic remedy prepared from the common hedgerow plant—comfrey. Comfrey’s ancient English name is “knitbone,” and it is said that country bone-setters used it to help repair broken bones. The story is that the bone would be set and then comfrey leaves would be bound to the area around the fracture with bandages and a cow pat. The heat from the cow pat would help drive the knitbone into the bone.
Taken orally in its homeopathically prepared and diluted form, Symphytum has a strong reputation for helping to heal fractures, especially those that are slow and difficult to unite. What is less well known is that Symphytum can also help torn muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are slow in healing—it simply promotes fusion. (I’ve read in the old herbal books that if boiled meat falls apart into pieces, adding comfrey leaves to the liquid makes the meat come together again. I have never known anyone who has tried this!)
I’ve found Symphytum especially useful for torn Achilles tendons, as well as for meniscus damage and collateral ligament tears in the knee. It can also help with vertebral fractures/degeneration of the spine, and for trauma or blows to the eyeball and eye socket.
An elderly woman came to the clinic after a fall. She had extensive multi-colored bruising to her eye and face, which had taken the main force of the fall. I gave her one dose of Arnica 30c immediately and told her to take one dose of Symphytum 30c the following morning. She returned one week later to show me that the bruising had almost completely disappeared and her face was back to normal. These were very good results since elderly people typically take much longer to repair tissue than younger people do. Symphytum is the single “grade 3 remedy” in the repertory for bruised and painful eyes.
We can’t wait
It may be worth recalling what happens when a person injures a joint, limb, muscle, or other body part traumatically. Almost every injury results from a blow, twist, wrench, strain, or other outside influence that damages tissue. This causes the blood vessels in the damaged area to bleed into surrounding tissue. The body views this blood as foreign matter and treats it as if it were an infection.
The result of the immune system’s reaction to infection is inflammation, swelling, and immobilization. In nature, an injured animal rests until its immune system can deal with the infection. But we humans, especially athletes and dancers, cannot accept the need for rest. We impatiently want to get going again, to heal more quickly and effectively, and to “work through” the pain and immobilization. Reports of injuries to athletes and players always stress how long it will be before they are able to play again. Injuries cost money.
What we really need to do is to keep the bleeding into the tissues to the very minimum. If we can do this, the resultant inflammation, swelling, and immobilization will be limited, and recovery will be faster and more effective.
That requires a safe and effective remedy. We have one. It is homeopathic Arnica montana. Why do we not publicize this remedy more? Why would sports teams, coaches, and managers not use this great remedy to reduce the huge costs of injuries?
Whole person healing
But it is not just money. Injury affects the whole person. The injured athlete loses out socially, is no longer part of his team, training mates, and social group. He becomes an injured athlete, anxious, dissatisfied, needing treatment, and suspicious that his team, club, group, or company believe that he is not really keen to get back to fitness. Likewise, the injured amateur who looks forward to that once or twice weekly golf game or exercise class to keep fit will also feel the effects when denied this outlet. Dissatisfaction and lethargy can set in, which takes a toll on a person’s home, work, and social life.
As homeopaths, we understand this holistic nature of injury, and our treatment is also holistic—it always addresses the whole person. Specific protocols for sports injuries, such as using Arnica for shock or Ruta for tendon injuries, are simply tried-and-tested methods for treating acute injuries, since most people respond to injuries in very similar ways. If such a routine prescription fails, we know to reconsider the totality of the person’s symptoms—including not just the physical symptoms but also the mental, emotional, and general symptoms—in order to find the most helpful remedy.
Indeed, there are times when a “constitutional remedy” based on the person’s entire symptom profile may do a better job at healing their injury than will a specific “injury remedy” or protocol.
But that may be another article!
Emlyn Thomas, RSHom, DPhysEd, of North Wales, UK, served in the Royal Air Force as a Physical Education Officer for 27 years, where he trained coaches, parachutists, and mountain rescue leaders and commanded rehabilitation centers. He played rugby and competed/coached track and field. A practicing homeopath for 17 years, he has taught in the UK as well as in Ethiopia, Sarajevo, Cuba, and Oslo. He is the author of Homeopathy for Sports, Exercise, and Dance.