Sports injuries

At whatever level you exercise, problems can arise and homeopathy has some answers, writes Dr Fiona Dry

Prior to studying homeopathy, my free  time was spent as an ice hockey team doctor. Indeed, it was my quest for  treatments of the coughs and colds, which could decimate our team in  the winter, that led me to look at homeopathy seriously as a useful tool  to add to my treatment choices.

Today some top athletes have used homeopathy successfully and  interest among both athletes and the support teams that care for them,  appears to be increasing. However for most people sport is recreational  and the need is for simple remedies to treat the most common injuries. I  usually recommend keeping four remedies in the sports bag so that they  can be easily accessed at any time – whether in the gym, on court or on  the rugby field.

First aid remedies 

Recommended for any physical trauma, Arnica is probably the  best-known homeopathic remedy – and for this reason it is often used  inappropriately. When using most other remedies we look for a pattern of  symptoms to match the illness – this shouldn’t be forgotten when using  remedies in a “first aid” situation. Arnica can be used when the injury  is in the initial stages and is likely to be superficial – sprains,  knocks, falls or when bruising is easily visible, but will be more  useful when some of the other features are present such as wanting to be  left alone or not able to bear someone touching the area. By all means  use Arnica 30c every 15 minutes for up to two hours if it seems to be  helping, then reassess to check whether another remedy is needed.

For bruising that is likely to be deep as  in a direct blow to the quads in rugby or any other contact sport then  my choice would be Bellis perennis 30c rather than Arnica. With an  injury needing Bellis perennis there is often a feeling of “tightness”  and bruising may not be particularly apparent initially. It can also be  helpful for tears to the quads where there is a lot of bleeding into the  muscle itself. Again use it every 15 minutes for the first two hours  then reduce the frequency to a dose three to four times daily, gradually  tailing off the remedy as symptoms improve.

My third choice is Ledum 30c as it is so useful in treating sprained  ankles. Switch to using Ledum, from Arnica if the ankle looks black with  bruising and has the sensation of being cold, yet putting heat on it  worsens the pain which is actually relieved by applying ice. Ledum is  often needed for a couple of days so start taking a dose every 30  minutes for up to six doses and then reduce to three or four times daily  as you improve. It is also particularly useful for black eyes so if you  play contact sport this is good to have in your bag.

The last remedy is Rhus tox again as a 30c potency. Use it when you start to move and feel “seized up”. Even if you haven’t been injured but have simply had a  hard session and feel stiff two or three doses of Rhus tox over one to  two hours, alternating with Arnica can sometimes help. Although clinical  research doesn’t necessarily back this, from a purely practical point  of view, it is worth trying. If you are due to play further matches that  day or the next use just the Rhus tox.

Muscle cramps 

These are a common problem in athletes. When it happens after a match it  is painful and inconvenient, but during a match it can mean the  difference between winning and losing. If cramps are a common problem  try dissolving a tablet of Cuprum metallicum 30c in a small bottle of  water and sip it two or three times an hour during the match. If you  develop a cramp then this can be increased to one sip every two or three  minutes until it subsides. Remember to mark the bottle well as you  should use a different bottle to drink from if you are trying to keep up  your level of hydration!

Tennis elbow

Besides helping in first aid cases homeopathic remedies can be used  in injuries that take a longer time to develop such as tennis elbow.  This is not easily related to a specific incident but develops over  weeks or months and causes pain in the elbow, which is worse when trying  to pick up an object at arm’s length. Ruta is a remedy which tends to  help with such pains, however in some of my patients it has caused  headaches, which limits its usefulness. It is for this reason I  recommend a 6c potency which can be taken daily for up to three weeks  rather than 30c. Often this condition is accompanied by restlessness and  the pain is described as a bruised feeling, again some patients have  used Arnica thinking that it is indicated for the bruised feeling but  Ruta has a special affinity for the areas where bones and tendons meet,  making it my first choice for tennis elbow. If the pain is more like a  tearing feeling and is relieved by heat then Causticum might be a better  choice, using 30c daily for up to two weeks.

Achilles tendonitis 

This is another problem that tends to develop slowly. The tendon  becomes painful and sometimes appears swollen or feels soft to the  touch. Treatment should include an assessment of both footwear and the  way the lower limbs move to help eliminate causative factors. Rest, good  footwear and physiotherapy are the mainstay of treatment. Homeopathic  remedies can be used alongside conventional treatments rather than  replacing them as healing tends to be slow and difficult to sustain.

Use Kali bich especially when symptoms are in one part of the tendon  only rather than affecting the whole length of it. If the area affected  is the lower part of the tendon where it attaches to the heel then Ruta  again would be a reasonable choice, whereas if it is more towards the  end of the tendon that attaches to the calf muscles then choose  Anacardium instead. When stiffness is the main symptom rather than pain,  the calves and even the ankles feeling tight especially when walking  then Cimicifugia might be needed.

The remedies may need to be taken for three to four weeks so a 6c  potency needs to be used and can be taken daily, provided you re-assess  whether the remedy is helping or not in the first five days and  regularly during the treatment. Also remember to stop when there is a  change in your symptoms.

Painful heels

A condition called plantar fasciitis causes pain, which is typically  worse first thing in the morning when you put your foot to the floor  and eases off during the day. This is due to inflammation of a thick  layer of connective tissue, which attaches to the underside of the heel.  This inflammation occurs at the junction of the connective tissue and  the heel bone and therefore Ruta is helpful in doses as outlined for  Achilles tendinitis.

If the pain feels more bony in origin, and is worse in damp weather  then Aranea diadema 6c taken daily over three to four weeks would be my  choice, particularly if the worsening of the symptoms in damp weather  was a prominent feature – because I find this an unusual symptom in this  disease.

After some time the heel can produce a small spur of bone which in  itself exacerbates the pain. Calc phos in 6c potency taken daily over a  six-week period can help to settle the discomfort and in most cases a  small heel raise worn in every shoe or slipper will speed recovery. Your  GP or a physiotherapist can advise you about this.

Recurrent injuries 

In recurrent injuries, or those not responding to simple remedies,  then the approach must be more constitutional rather than local. A  doctor or therapist can build up a relationship with an athlete and  frequently uses knowledge about the character of that athlete in  choosing a remedy. The highly competitive, exacting, winner at all costs  who also is popular in the club, enjoys a drink and a joke after the  game (especially when he has won!) would encourage me to prescribe Nux  vomica for cramps rather than Cuprum metallicum.

Someone with weak ankles and recurrent sprains would lead me to Calc  carb if they were generally anxious, hard working, taking on more and  more responsibility until they become exhausted. Nat carb if they were  more reserved, take sudden dislikes to people, or perhaps had a feeling  of sadness about them.

An athlete with Achilles tendinitis who had suffered bereavement  around the time of the injury may need Ignatia rather than the remedies I  suggested earlier. In some cases remedy selection can only be done  after taking a complete homeopathic history and the symptoms seen in  context.

Drug testing in sport 

I am sometimes asked whether homeopathic remedies cause problems  with the anti doping rules in sport. Athletes at anything from club to  national level may be subject to drug testing for performance enhancing  drugs, depending on the sport they take part in, and detection of banned  drugs could lead to suspension from the sport. The beauty of  homeopathic remedies is that they are undetectable via conventional  methods. The problems lie with other remedies, sometimes labelled herbal  or vitamin/food supplements that are confused with homeopathic  remedies. If in any doubt you should contact your sport governing body  prior to taking a remedy to check that it is allowable.

Can homeopathic remedies improve performance in an athlete? My answer  is undoubtedly yes but not to the extent that would unnaturally enhance  his or her performance past optimum, so I would consider them no more  performance enhancing than good coaching and they don’t have the health  risks associated with banned drugs.

What can’t homeopathy achieve? 

It can’t replace correct equipment, good coaching and sensible training  schedules; neither can it replace accurate diagnosis of an injury. If in  any doubt get a professional opinion. A good coach is invaluable in  preventing injuries and a chartered physiotherapist is equally so in  treating them, take your chosen remedy along and tell them about it. You  may be surprised at how much they know about homeopathy already and if  not – why not tell them?

Finally I would recommend a very helpful book to read if you would like to know more about homeopathy and sports injury: Homoeopathy for Sports, Exercise and Dance by Emlyn Thomas. Full of practical advice for the athlete who wants to  start using homeopathy, it is written clearly enough for those with  little or no knowledge of homeopathy to use and is very readable.

Fiona Dry MBBS MRCGP DipSportMed MFHom is a homeopathic GP in Leighton  Buzzard.