Diseases of the Musculoskeletal System

Herbs For Diseases Of The Musculoskeletal System

Disorders of the musculoskeletal system — including arthritis, hip and elbow dysplasia, ligament conditions such as anterior cruciate / luxating patellas, and spinal arthritis / spondylosis — generally present as altered gait or lameness caused by pain. These conditions benefit from physical therapies including acupuncture, chiropractics, physiotherapy, and massage, as well as weight reduction where appropriate. Chondroprotective agents should always be considered and conventional antiinflammatory agents should be considered for acute injuries. Alternatives to nonsteroidal antiinflammatories are often sought because of concerns over side effects of medications including continued degeneration of joints and gastrointestinal, hepatic, or renal effects.

Musculoskeletal conditions affect the whole body. Pain in one area leads to biomechanical changes elsewhere due to shifts in weight bearing and movement. The whole body must be evaluated, not just the affected limb or back. Frequently, muscle spasm, trigger points, myofascial pain, and joint pain are detected elsewhere in the body. Similarly, herbalists take a systemic approach to treating musculoskeletal disorders. The goal is to treat the condition, as well as the pain, possible depression, muscular spasms, and joint disease, as well as overall health of the patient.

One of the possible underlying conditions thought to contribute to inflammatory changes anywhere in the body is leaky gut. Animals that have been administered nonsteroidal drugs for long periods frequently have disordered digestive function, so questions about appetite; gastrointestinal symptoms; and feces quality, quantity, and frequency should be asked. Hence, herbalists frequently recommend a change in diet, treat the digestive tract, and use alteratives as part of the protocol. Herbs that may be beneficial in treating chronic musculoskeletal conditions include Burdock (Arctium lappa), Blue flag (Iris versicolor), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Oregon grape (Mabonia aquifolium), Yellow dock (Rutnex crispus), and Sarsaparilla (Smilax spp).

The main herbs of interest are those that are antiinflammatory or provide analgesic, antispasmodic action and those that improve circulatory function. Some of these herbs have already been discussed, so the emphasis here is on herbs with specific benefits in musculoskeletal disease.

Anti-Inflammatory Herbs

Spasm-Relieving And Analgesic (Antirhuematic) Herbs

Skeletal muscle spasm may be relieved by spasmolytic herbs. Most of these herbs have demonstrated effects on smooth muscle, but rarely have they been investigated for their effects on skeletal muscle. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) contains valerenic acid, which is spasmolytic and relaxes muscles and may be useful for back pain associated with muscular spasm. Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) is a relaxing nervine, and is considered to be antirheumatic with the active cimicifugoside, which has been shown to inhibit N-acetylcholine receptor-mediated responses in vitro. Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) is also considered to be a traditional antirheumatic, antiinflammatory, and spasmolytic. Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) and other viburnum species have demonstrated antispasmodic activity in smooth muscle spasm and are useful for spasmodic muscular cramps.

More direct analgesia can be gained from using Corydalis (Corydalis ambigua), which is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to invigorate the blood and alleviate pain, including back, abdominal, and arthritic pain. Tetrahydropalmatine (THP) is the most studied constituent, with demonstrated analgesic and sedative effects. In people with nerve pain, 75 mg tetrahydropalmatine daily was effective in 78% of patients tested. Antidepressants are often used in human pain control. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) has demonstrated analgesic and antiinflammatory activity in laboratory animals and may be particularly helpful in neuralgia and post amputation conditions. Californian poppy (Escbscboltzia californica) has demonstrated peripheral analgesic effects. Passion flower (Passiflora incarnate) methanol leaf extract in mice (200 mg / kg) exhibited sedative analgesic and antiinflammatory activities against induced pain and induced edema.

Other traditional antirheumatic herbs include Blue cohosh (Caulopbyllum tbalictroides), Bladder wrack (Fucus vesiculosus) for rheumatoid arthritis, Lavender (Lavendula officinalis) topically, Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) for myalgia (orally and topically), and Poke root (Pbytolacca decandra).

Circulatory Stimulants

Another herbal strategy for treating arthritis is to enhance peripheral circulation. Two of the most commonly used circulatory stimulants for arthritis in animals are Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) and Prickly ash (Zantboxylum americanum).

Prescription For Degenerative Joint Diseases / Arthritis


Consider antiinflammatory herbs to help reduce the dose of conventional antiinflammatories or as an alternative to traditional drugs. Treat associated leaky gut with long-term NSAIDs or steroids. Reduce pain using spasmodic, antirheumatic, and analgesic herbs, improve circulation to joint and muscle tissues, and treat neuralgia if present. Consider adaptogens for chronic stress associated with pain.


Use alcohol or glycetract tinctures for best results; alternatively, use teas.

Devil’s claw: Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, bitter; 1 part.

Valerian: Antispasmodic, carminative, sedative; 1 part.

St. John’s wort: Antidepressant, nervine tonic, antiinflammatory, vulnery; 1 part.

Withania: Tonic, adaptogen, nervine, sedative, antiinflammatory; 1 part.

Turmeric: Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiplatelet, hepatoprotective, anticancer, cholagogue; one-half part.

Prickly ash: Antirheumatic, circulatory stimulant, carminative; one-half part.

For tinctures, give 1 ml per 10 pounds twice daily in food for 3 weeks. For teas, give 1 dessert spoon full twice daily in food for 3 weeks.