Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) include injuries to the muscles, ligaments and tendons of the shoulders, arms, hands or wrists. You may have heard of some, including carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, bursitis (frozen shoulder) and epicondylitis (tennis elbow).
If you're getting aches and pains, pins and needles or loss of strength or feeling in a hand, arm or shoulder, and your symptoms feel better when you're resting, then you could have RSI. Anti-inflammatory painkillers or wearing elastic supports - like those used by sports people - may help. But there are also natural remedies you could try, including:
Nutrition Vitamin B6 (found in meat, fish, nuts, beans, whole grains, avocados and bananas) and omega-3 fatty acids (oily fish, nuts, seeds) may help keep your joints supple. Some naturopathic practitioners also recommend cleansing the body of toxins with a detox diet to treat RSI symptoms.
Herbs Creams or ointments that contain the herb comfrey are thought to help reduce swelling and inflammation (don't use on broken skin).
Aromatherapy Essential oils for muscle stiffness include peppermint, lavender, ginger and eucalyptus. Mix with a carrier oil (almond or olive oil, for example) and massage the affected areas.
Homeopathy Ruta is often used for tendon injuries.
Hot and cold therapy Using either hot or cold compresses (such as a hot water bottle or an ice pack), applied for just a few minutes at a time to an inflamed joint, may help reduce swelling.
Meanwhile, avoid computer-related RSI by making sure your computer, desk and chair are correctly set up at work.
You can get spot medication from your GP, including antibiotics and antibacterial creams. But there are natural remedies you can try too:
Acupuncture: It could be worth giving acupuncture a go as some studies suggest it may relieve hormone-related problems such as acne by regulating glands that control hormone production.
Herbs: Herbal medicine practitioners believe acne may be a sign of a sluggish liver, which they treat with bitter herbs such as dandelion, nettle and milk thistle. Echinacea, a herb with antibacterial properties, may also help.
Make a herbal infusion and use it as a face wash. Pour boiling water over a handful of dried lavender, sage, basil, chamomile or calendula, steep for 10 minutes, strain and cool. Then wash your skin with it twice a day.
Homeopathy: Over-the-counter remedies for acne include Kali bichonicum 6c (for itchy spots and blackheads), Hepar sulph 6c (big, boil-like spots) and Pulsatilla 6c (hormonal spots).
Essential oils: Australian scientists claim tea tree oil kills 27 out of 32 strains of the bacterium that causes acne. Dab it neat on your zits using a cotton wool bud. Lavender oil is also antiseptic and healing, and like tea tree can be used undiluted.
Nutrition: It's a myth that eating chocolate and fatty foods causes acne, but some supplements may help including zinc, chromium, omega-3 oils, MSM (organic sulphur) and vitamins A, B and E. For best results see a nutritionist for a diet MOT.
Severe addictions should always be treated by a health professional. But natural remedies may also help break a milder habit, including the following:
Herbs: Some plant remedies may help with things like withdrawal symptoms – broom and lobelia, for instance, may ease nicotine withdrawal. However, these tend to be specialist herbs that are only available from qualified medical herbalists.
Flower remedies: Gentle potions made from wild plants, flower remedies are thought to work on an emotional level. Agrimony, for instance, is said to help those who turn to alcohol or drugs during times of stress.
Nutrition: If you have a physical addiction it could be causing deficiencies of certain nutrients in your body. For example, smoking depletes your body of vitamin C. Or if you're a heavy drinker you may need more beta-carotene, magnesium and zinc, as well as extra vitamins B, C and E in your diet. For expert help, consult a nutritionist.
Meditation: Studies show meditation may help break addictions, especially those techniques that use visualisation. This may help lift your mood and help you see things more positively. Additional techniques that do the same job include yoga and other relaxation methods.
Hypnotherapy: Sessions with a qualified hypnotherapist may help you understand what's behind your addiction, as well as identify other, healthier, ways to satisfy those needs. Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) works in a similar way, and may help reprogramme your brain to view whatever you're addicted to differently.
Note: Natural remedies are not substitutes for conventional medical treatments for addiction. If you are receiving a medical treatment, do not stop unless advised by your doctor or consultant.
If you only get backache once in a blue moon - after a hard day's gardening, for instance - a couple of painkillers and a hot bath may well fix it. But for those who suffer from chronic back pain there are several natural therapies that may offer relief (though it goes without saying that anyone who suffers from chronic back problems should always see their GP before trying any complementary therapies):
Osteopathy: Several studies show osteopathy can be effective in treating low back pain, the aim being to get the musculoskeletal system back to its natural state by using massage, manipulation and stretching.
Alexander Technique: This may help improve pain in the back and neck areas caused by bad posture such as stooping and slouching. However, you may need up to 25 lessons to learn the technique.
Acupuncture: Believed to help stimulate the body's own healing process, acupuncture may also be effective in relieving pain by triggering the production of natural painkilling substances called endorphins.
Chiropractic: A spinal manipulation treatment that aims to stimulate the nerves that help the muscles relax, making it useful for people experiencing muscles spasms.
Pilates: Best known for keeping celebrities in shape, Pilates is an exercise system that's thought to help protect against back pain as it focuses on strengthening the abdominal muscles, thereby taking the strain off back muscles.
Aromatherapy: A massage using warming essential oils such as black pepper or ginger diluted in a carrier oil may help soothe tense back muscles.
Caused by the Herpes simplex virus, cold sores are also highly contagious. You can catch the virus through direct contact with someone who already has it (which is why kissing someone with a cold sore is a bad idea), or from something a cold sore sufferer has used - a cup, toothbrush, towel or lip balm, for instance.
Unfortunately once you have the virus, there's no cure. Avoiding stress can help keep break-outs at bay, and there are effective anti-viral cold sore creams available over the counter at pharmacies. There are also several natural remedies that might help:
Heat: Special little gadgets that apply enough heat to a cold sore to kill the virus have proved effective in trials (available online and from pharmacies).
Aromatherapy: Certain essential oils including lavender, eucalyptus, tea tree and bergamot have antiseptic properties, while geranium oil is also thought to help fight viruses. Add a couple of drops to a teaspoon of calendula (marigold) cream, blend and apply using a cotton bud.
Homeopathy: When a cold sore erupts, taking Nat mur or Rhus tox might provide relief as both are though to help speed up healing.
Herbs: Calendula and lemon balm creams fight infection. Alternatively make a tea using dried marigold flowers and apply with a cotton bud when cool. Echinacea and garlic may also boost your immune system and help prevent break-outs.
Nutrition: Lysine, an amino acid, is thought to help prevent cold sores (available in supplements or in meat, potatoes, fish, beans, eggs and yoghurt).
You may also be one of the growing number of people who suffers from the dry, scaly, itchy, red skin caused by eczema. This may be the result of an allergy to things like metal, soap or perfume. Or it could just be that eczema runs in your family.
Whatever the cause, dry skin and eczema are no joke if you have to live with them. Thankfully there are several approaches to treating dry skin problems: the conventional solution is to use emollient creams that help trap moisture in the skin, or - in more severe cases - to use topical steroid creams.
For those who prefer natural remedies, however, there are several that are worth a try:
Nutrition: Omega-3 fatty acids - found in fish, flaxseed and hemp oils - are widely thought to help dry skin conditions. Also make sure your diet contains plenty of vitamins A, C, E and zinc (though avoid foods that contain vitamin A if you're pregnant).
Aromatherapy: Using a tablespoon of almond oil as a base, add a couple of drops of lavender, calendula and German chamomile oils, blend and massage into the skin. Always test a small path of skin first, as essential oils can make dry skin worse in some people.
Herbs: Aloe vera is a natural emollient - apply it in gel form to dry skin or drink aloe vera juice. Calendula and chickweed creams may help sooth dry, itchy skin. Evening primrose oil taken internally in capsules (or applied direct to the skin) may also provide relief.
Homeopathy: Sulphur is thought to help in cases where the skin is dry, rough, red and itchy, while Arsenicum may relieve dry skin that gets worse in cold weather.
Flower remedies: If your dry skin or eczema is stress-related, several Bach flower remedies may help, including Cherry Plum, Impatiens, Olive and Vervain.
Ear infections often develop as a complication of having a cold or a sore throat. If you're susceptible to them, you'll know how incredibly painful they can be, and that the usual conventional treatment - if the infection is a stubborn one - is to take antibiotics.
You can, however, try to nip ear problems in the bud early by using one or more of the following natural remedies:
Nutrition: To prevent earache, make sure your diet is rich in vitamins C, E, zinc and beta carotene. When you have earache, try warming a little garlic oil (take a few garlic capsules and squeeze out the oil) and put up to four drops in each ear. Garlic has natural antibiotic properties (and by putting the drops in your ear, your breath won't smell).
Aromatherapy: Make a steam inhalation using a bowl of hot water and five drops of lavender or chamomile essential oil. Breathe in the steam for 10 minutes.
Herbs: Goldenseal may help relieve congestion in the ears. Take it in capsule form, or dilute 10m goldenseal tincture in 100ml water and use as ear drops.
Homeopathy: Hepar sulph may help relieve throbbing ear pain that feels better when you apply warmth (place a hot water against the ear). But if warmth makes the pain worse, try Belladonna.
So if you're suffering from persistent fatigue and it's not just because you're burning the candle at both ends, see your GP for a check-up, just to make sure.
Some simple lifestyle changes could fix a temporary tiredness problem - a healthier diet and getting the occasional early night, for starters. There are several natural remedies that could make a difference to your energy levels too, including:
Nutrition: As well as improving your diet by eating fewer processed foods and more fresh fruit and veg, make sure you also get a good supply of B vitamins, iron, magnesium and potassium.
Aromatherapy: Certain essential oils help you relax - which is essential when you're constantly busy. Add up to ten drops of lavender, ylang ylang or Roman chamomile oil to a hot bath and breathe deeply.
Herbs: Ginseng is thought to help boost flagging energies, but if you're tired because you're having problems getting to sleep try a cup of chamomile, lemon balm or lime tree flower herbal tea before bedtime.
Homeopathy: Valerian is thought to relieve fatigue caused by lack of sleep, or try Arnica if you're physically exhausted.
Yoga and t'ai chi: Many forms of yoga relax and revive the body. T'ai chi - often described as moving meditation - can help because it slows the mind.
Note: Certain herbs and aromatherapy oils should be avoided during pregnancy, so always consult your doctor or midwife before using any.
If your gums tend to bleed or if they're sore and inflamed, your dentist should obviously be your first port of call. In the meantime there are several natural remedies that might soothe your gums and make them stronger, including:
Nutrition: Experts recommend eating plenty of foods rich in vitamin C, since deficiencies are widely thought to be linked to gum disease. Vitamin D can also help soothe inflammation associated with sore gums. Meanwhile co-enzyme Q10 - available in supplements - is thought to help repair gum tissue.
Aromatherapy: Myrrh oil makes an effective antiseptic mouthwash, but avoid it if you're pregnant. Add a drop or two to a glass of warm water and rinse. For a milder alternative, use tea tree oil instead of myrrh.
Herbs: Make a mouthwash by adding hot water to a spoonful of dried meadowsweet flowers (they contain substances called tannins that help stop gums bleeding). Steep for ten minutes, strain and cool before use. Rinsing with cold sage tea may also be helpful if you suffer from mouth ulcers.
Homeopathy: Silica is worth a try if you're susceptible to mouth and gum ulcers. Alternatively Phosphorus may help if your gums bleed after you brush your teeth.
Meditation: Studies suggest stress and gum disease are linked (stress is thought to increase plaque levels in your mouth). Meditation - or any relaxation therapy - may be useful if you notice your gums are affected whenever you feel tense.
Hangover symptoms vary from person to person, but not many escape the pounding headache. Then there's the nausea and the upset stomach. A couple of painkillers usually work a treat, but there are also several natural remedies you could try, including:
Nutrition: Eggs may be good for a hangover as they contain an amino acid called cysteine, which helps remove alcohol toxins from the body. Or try toast with Marmite, as the B vitamins in Marmite give you an energy boost and help your body expel alcohol.
Also get your blood sugar level up by eating something sweet, like dried fruit or - if you can face it - chocolate. And of course, drink lots and lots of water.
Herbs: Bitter herbs such as gentian are thought to support the liver. Try 20 drops of Angostura Bitters in a glass of water to speed up your recovery and settle your stomach. Ginger meanwhile helps with nausea. Make tea with a small, chopped-up chunk: steep for five minutes, then add honey to taste.
If you're avoiding conventional painkillers, willow bark contains a natural aspirin-like compound that can soothe a headache. Add a spoonful or two of dried willow bark to water in a pot, simmer for ten minutes, then cool and strain before drinking.
Homeopathy: Nux vomica is thought to help your liver produce enzymes that break down the alcohol in your system faster. Take one or two pills as soon as you wake up, then repeat every hour or two for up to six doses in a day.
The conventional way of treating headaches is to take a couple of painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. But if you're tempted to try a more natural form of pain relief there are several, including:
Nutrition: Nutrients that may help soothe a headache include magnesium, which has been found to shorten migraines, and B vitamins. Evening primrose oil may also relieve PMS-related headaches as it contains a natural painkiller.
Aromatherapy: Peppermint, lavender, chamomile and rosemary essential oils are often used for headaches. Lavender is especially useful as you don't have to dilute it in a carrier oil (so you can use it neat on your skin). Dab some on your temples for instant relief.
Herbs: Several herbs are useful for headaches, including willow bark (which contains an aspirin-like substance), feverfew (often used to treat migraine), ginkgo biloba (which increases blood flow to the brain) and ginger (used because it relaxes blood vessels in the head).
Reflexology: Massaging reflex points on the feet is another drug-free way of coping with headaches. Locate the solar plexus reflex, a point just under the ball of the foot and directly below the gap between the big toe and the first little toe. Press with your thumb, wiggle, then repeat on the other foot.
Note: Always check with your doctor before using herbs or aromatherapy oils during pregnancy, as some should be avoided.
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