Comfrey Cream for Sprain Pain

Healthnotes Newswire (March 23, 2006)—A comfrey cream can relieve the symptoms of an ankle sprain, according to Phytomedicine (2005;12:707–14).

The ankle joints are particularly prone to sprain and strain injuries because of their small size and heavy load. An ankle joint is sprained when it is turned beyond its usual range of motion and one of its ligaments is pulled and damaged. A sprained ankle is typically tender and swollen and feels worse when weight is put on it. Treatment aimed at reducing the swelling and pain of a sprained ankle includes staying off of one’s feet as much as possible, elevating the ankle several times per day, and applying ice often during the first 24 hours. Sometimes anti-inflammatory medicines, either topical or oral, are also recommended.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a flowering plant that has been used for centuries in creams, salves, and poultices to treat joint and muscle pain, bumps, bruises, sprains, and strains. Studies have shown that comfrey extracts have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving (analgesic) effects and can stimulate tissue repair.

In the current study, 160 healthy adults with sprained ankles were randomly assigned to use either a comfrey cream or a topical anti-inflammatory medicine (diclofenac gel). Each person entered the study within six hours of being injured and began using about 2 grams of the cream or gel four times per day for one week. Pain level and the degree of swelling were measured upon entering the study, after four days, and after six to eight days. Participants also answered questionnaires about their experience of pain and disability, and their need for oral anti-inflammatory medicines.

The people using comfrey cream had significantly greater improvement in pain and swelling than those using diclofenac gel. Furthermore, those using comfrey reported faster and more complete recovery than those using diclofenac.

These findings suggest that comfrey cream might be more effective than diclofenac gel in treating the symptoms of a sprained ankle. These results must be considered preliminary, however, because the people in this study knew what treatment they were receiving. A placebo effect in either group could have influenced the results. A double-blind trial would help to confirm these findings. Longer studies to compare the effects of these treatments on the time required for complete recovery would also be useful to determine whether this difference in the short-term response to treatment is important.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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