It seems the older we get, the more we ache. Winter chores can put an additional strain on our muscles, so here are a few tips on how to soothe those aching muscles naturally.
What makes muscles ache is the restriction of blood flow. As muscles tighten due to stress or overuse, blood vessels are restricted, and vital nutrients cannot reach the tissues. As a result, lactic acid builds up in the strained tissue and causes pain. So, to ease that soreness, we need to restore blood flow. As a rule, blood travels toward heat and away from the cold. Apply heat to bring circulation into an area. Use a cold compress to push fluids from inflamed tissue.
There is a vast difference between a sore muscle and an injured muscle. If you feel heat or swelling over the area of pain, an injury is likely. In that case, you do not want to apply heat because it would only worsen the condition. Cold packs are used to treat injuries, but we will get more into that later.
You could prepare an herbal bath with two cups of Epsom salts added to soothe aching muscles that affect large portions of your body, such as your legs and buttocks, or you can apply a topical compress to smaller areas. If you are pregnant or have a heart condition, be careful about soaking in a hot bath for any length of time. Heating pads work well, but they do not help the muscles heal, and you must apply them several times during the day for them to be effective. Who has time for that?
Personally, I prefer to use oils and balms to soothe and heal tired muscles. Oils can be infused with herbs, and they are absorbed through the skin, making their effects last a bit longer than direct heat. Most of your commercial products, such as Biofreeze, Tiger Balm, and Absorbine use wintergreen or menthol as their primary ingredient, and they work very well, but they also offer only temporary relief.
To help your muscles heal, you must use a combination of herbs, ones that act as a tonic, anti-inflammatory, and a stimulant. Tonics stimulate your body’s natural healing response. Anti-Inflammatories help reduce pain and swelling so that the tissues can heal. Stimulants act like a pump that stimulates the tissue, bringing circulation and fresh fluids to the area.
Recommended external tonics include lavender and rosemary. They contain camphor, which helps draw blood to the surface of the skin and increase circulation. You can also use camphor oil, but be warned; this oil can produce much heat.
Anti-inflammatories include ginger, calendula, black pepper, and chamomile. They help push stagnant fluid from the tissues and reduce inflammation.
Stimulants, such as eucalyptus, wintergreen, and peppermint help stimulate the muscles by introducing a mild irritant. Their presence causes the body to flush out the area, including the stagnant lactic acid that is causing you pain.
Most of these ingredients are typically available at home, such as ginger, black pepper, chamomile, rosemary, and peppermint. Others are available at most health-food stores or online. I prefer to gather the herbs myself and dry them for future use. If stored properly in a cool, dark place, most dried herbs remain potent for up to a year. If you do not want to prepare the herbs yourself, consider purchasing their essential oil, instead. This option is far more expensive, but easier to use and store.
Base oils are what you heat the herbs in to extract their essential oils. There are several base oils from which to choose. Some are healing by themselves, for example, castor oil is an anti-inflammatory, and an immunity booster. Extra-virgin olive, avocado, coconut, and sesame oils are all good mediums to use. Each has its unique properties which will be discussed in more detail in a future article. For now, choose one that suits your needs. You will need two cups.
If you want to use castor oil as part of your base, do not bake it. Add it to the mixture after the concoction has had a chance to cool. I suggest a ¼ cup of castor oil added to your base.
Select at least one herb from each category: tonic, anti-inflammatory, and stimulant. My personal favorites are lavender and rosemary, black pepper and ginger, and eucalyptus and wintergreen. Add a tablespoon of each herb to two cups of oil in an oven-safe glass container. Do not use a metal pan. You may mix more than one type of oil to obtain the desired consistency. Place the glass bowl with the mixture in an oven set to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow the oil to heat for three hours.
After the oil has heated for three hours, strain out the herbs and set it aside. If you want to keep this mixture as an oil, you may place it in a container after it cools. Add a tablespoon of Vitamin E oil to preserve it from rancidity. You may also use glycerine in place of Vitamin E oil if you so choose. If you want to use castor oil, now is the time to add a ¼ cup.
You can use the oil neat, or you can turn it into a salve. Personally, I like using the mixture as a salve because it is easier to apply.
In a pan, heat water to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a heat-resistant glass container in the water mixture. Add two rounded tablespoons of beeswax to the glass bowl and wait for it to melt. Add two rounded tablespoons of shea butter to give the salve a smooth texture that is easy to apply. Wait for it to melt. Add this mixture to your herb-infused oil. Stir it well and then allow it to cool and set.
Make your salve base and then add ten drops of camphor oil, and ten drops of pennyroyal oil. If you are pregnant, do not use pennyroyal oil. You may also use wintergreen, peppermint, and rosemary oil. I also add two tablespoons of castor oil for good measure.
Warning: Herbs are powerful healers, and not all herbs are safe for all people. If you are pregnant or taking medications, please seek medical advice before administering homemade remedies. Also, pure essential oils are very poignant. Some people have an adverse reaction them. It is always a good idea to test a small area of skin first.
If a Reaction Occurs: If your skin burns or a rash appears, apply extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil to the skin immediately.
For longer lasting results, apply your oil or salve, cover the area with a cotton cloth or gauze pad. Secure it with skin-friendly cellophane tape, and then wrap the area with an ace bandage. This application enables you to get back to work or remain active while your body heals. You can also cover the area with a warm towel if you prefer to be stationary.
In Case of Injury (area is swollen or inflamed)
If you have injured your muscle, you need to draw heat away from the area. The best way to do that is to apply a cold pack directly to the swollen area. I prefer to use a package of frozen peas (do not eat them afterward). If possible, place a heat pack between the inflamed area and your heart to encourage the fluids to flow toward the heat.
Use a castor, pennyroyal, and camphor oil mixture to encourage healing to the area. Again, if you are sensitive to these oils, do not use them. Always research herbs and oils before you decide to include them in your healing regime.
Warning: Pennyroyal oil is a poignant remedy that stirs much controversy. Read up on it before you decide to use this oil. I have used it often in the past without adverse effects.
Two books that I highly recommend are:
Opinion by Rowena Portch
Image Courtesy of Better Than Bacon’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License