Tight muscles can cause pain and discomfort not only in the affected muscle, but also in the surrounding structures. Muscle tightness may be caused by fatigue or injury, illness, or hormonal changes such as with the menstrual cycle. Muscle contractions are the primary source of muscle stiffness, but swelling in and around the muscle tissue can also make them rigid and immobile. Herbal remedies loosen muscles by releasing the contractions or by reducing the swelling. Some remedies work internally, and some work externally. Consult your physician before taking any herbal remedies.
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Kava kava, valerian and ginger are all used internally to loosen tight muscles, according to the book “The Herbal Drugstore: The Best Natural Alternatives to Over-the-Counter and Prescription Medicines.” All three herbs are available in pill form in the supplement aisle of most drugstores, or in liquid and root form in health food and specialty stores. Kava kava acts as a muscle relaxant and the recommended adult dosage is 150 to 300 mg up to three times per day, or 10 to 15 drops of liquid alone, or in juice, three times a day. Children and pregnant or nursing women should not take kava kava. Valerian is another relaxant and the recommended adult dosage is 200 mg up to four times per day or 1 to 1.5 tsp. of liquid at bedtime. Consult your physician before giving valerian to children. Pregnant and nursing women should not take valerian. Ginger is an anti-inflammatory and the adult dosage is up to eight 500 mg capsules per day or 10 to 20 drops of liquid three times per day. Children under age 2 should not take ginger. Talk to a qualified physician before using valerian, kava or ginger to treat any health condition.
Peppermint, comfrey and arnica are all used externally to loosen tight muscles. Peppermint in the form of menthol, arnica and comfrey are all available in over-the-counter topical pain remedies. You can also purchase peppermint, arnica and comfrey as essential oils or liquid extracts or in plant form. Peppermint has a cooling sensation that interferes with pain signals. To use the essential oil, add 15 drops of oil to 1 oz. of light vegetable oil and rub a dime-sized amount into the affected muscle every four hours. Arnica reduces swelling and relieves pain. To use arnica extract, add 1 tbsp. to 16 oz. of warm water. Soak a clean cloth in the water and apply the cloth to the affected muscle. Do not apply the arnica wash to areas of broken skin. Comfrey is an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. To use comfrey essential oil, mix 10 to 15 drops of comfrey into 1 oz. of light vegetable oil and apply a dime-sized amount to the affected area. Check with your doctor before using peppermint, arnica or comfrey, however, to ensure safe and proper usage.
Cramp bark and black haw both work specifically on menstrual cramping, notes "The Herbal Drugstore." Cramp bark is available as a supplement in most major drugstores, and both herbs are available in liquid form from health food stores or online retailers. Some manufacturers may combine the two herbs in a special menstrual formula. Cramp bark is an antispasmodic and relaxes uterine muscle, and the standard dosing is 3 to 4 g per day or three to five droppers full of liquid, three to five times per day. Black haw relieves the lower back pain associated with menstrual cramps, and the standard dosing is three to five droppers full, three to five times per day. "The Herbal Drugstore" also suggests combining both or either herb with valerian or kava kava to boost their effects. Contact a health practitioner for dosing guidelines for your individual needs.
Although herbal relaxants are natural, they are not without risks or side effects. As with their manmade counterparts, kava kava and valerian can cause drowsiness and should not be used while driving or in other situations where you need to be alert. Topical remedies may cause skin irritation, and all herbal remedies carry the risk of allergic reaction. Always consult your physician before taking any herbal supplement.
- "The Herbal Drugstore: The Best Natural Alternatives to Over-the-Counter and Prescription Medicines"; Linda B. White, M.D., Steven Foster, M.D.; June 2000
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Kava Kava
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Valerian
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Ginger
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Peppermint
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Comfrey