Helichrysum Essential Oil – A Magic Bullet For Treating Sports Injuries? by Misty Rae Cech
Helichrysum Essential Oil – A Magic Bullet for Sports Injuries, Bruises and Tissue Repair: A Primer for Active Health and Fitness Readers.
‘Aromatherapy’ has become an extremely misleading term in America; the position of ‘Aromatherapist’ was ranked as one of the top 100 ‘BS’ up-and-coming new jobs recently on CNN – and most folks think ‘Aroma’-therapy is all about smelling something pretty so you can feel better. Much of the rest of the ‘civilized’ world relies on plants, and their essential oils, as effective medicines for a wide varieties of medical conditions. Aside from the fact that many studies have shown that simply smelling natural aromatic oils can improve test scores, improve your mood and improve your sleep, there is a LOT more to aromatherapy than just good scents – and here we’ll have a look at a very practical side of using essential oils – the speeding of healing of strains, sprains and sports injuries with Helichrysum essential oil.
At it’s basis, aromatherapy deals with the use of volatile aromatic compounds naturally produced by the majority of plant species on earth. The difference in the chemical makeup of these ‘essential oils’ varies tremendously, and so does the biological effect of each class of natural aromatic compound. Many are known as strongly anti-bacterial or anti-viral, others stimulate tissue regeneration, others will reduce inflammation, some are analgesic (pain relieving), while still others enhance circulation (and the list goes on!). The individual chemical makeup of the essential oil from each plant give that oil it’s healing characteristics. The makeup of one particular essential oil, that distilled from the flowers of Helichrysum Italicum, includes a very synergistic combination of compounds that are known to be anti-hematomatic (active against blood clots), tissue regenerative, free-radical scavenging (anti-oxidant), and anti-inflammatory.
Before approaching it’s possible effects of Helichrysum essential oil on sprains, strains and other sports injuries, let’s look at the root of these painful conditions. Take, for example, a an ankle twisted in a basketball game – what has happened physiologically? Connective tissues (tendons and ligaments) have been stretched beyond their normal lengths; these tissue have suffered ‘micro tears’, which is damage to the actual structure of the cells of the connective tissue. Some of these cells are so damaged that they die, and need to be re-grown. There is often additional swelling and bruising involved, which is generally the leaking of blood from damaged capillaries into intracellular space. This results in a loss of blood supply to surrounding cells, and blockage of nutrients, oxygen, and waste products moving to and from those cells. This in fact, leads to cellular damage beyond the primary injury of the connective tissue cells. More cell death occurs here, not only directly from the loss of nutrient/waste exchange for these cells, but also due to an increase in oxidative radical activity. The greater the amount of ‘secondary’ injury which occurs lengthens the time to recovery – here, one can see why applying ice to an injury soon after it occurs can speed healing – it reduces the amount of blood that clots (bruises) in an area, and lowers the metabolic activity (and oxidative radical production) in cells with a loss of nutrient supply – therefore, less secondary cell damage and death accompanies the primary injury.
Enter the activity of Helichrysum essential oil. It has a high percentage of anti-inflammatory sesquiterpene hydrocarbons – this compound acts by dissipating free radicals. The oil’s other major components include neryl acetate, a monoterpenoid ester with distinct, relaxing effects that can reduce tension of the tissues in the area of the injury. The third major component are the regenerative di-ketones, found in significant quantities only in Helichrysum oil. “The pain- reducing, analgesic, and regenerative effect of everlasting (Helichrysum) is unique: If applied in time, it prevents hemorrhaging. It is also very effective for joint pain…” – Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt, Advanced Aromatherapy.
In ‘Medical Aromatherapy’, Dr. Schnaubelt indicates that the effects of many essential oils cannot be explained completely by the actions of their individual components – many oils’ effects are greater than the sum of their parts. The synergy of the components in Helichrysum produces a particularly sensational healing result. A recent user of the oil, who had been a professional triathlete, then cyclist, then ‘casual’ marathon runner, was having chronic pain in an achilles tendon. Overuse – and perhaps a stiff clutch on an old car – lead him to believe that despite excellent fitness, he wound not be able to take part in an upcoming major marathon. The injury hurt every time he ran; he had been a proponent of alternative therapies for many years, with some success using DMSO for tendon-related inflammation. He had not found DMSO (often used on racehorses for similar injuries) to be as effective on chronic injuries as acute ones, and this achilles issue was no different – nothing was helping fast enough where he knew he could make the race. For the first time, he gave Helichrysum essential oil a try, applying undiluted (Helichrysum is very well tolerated this way) to the area twice daily. Within two days, he was running without pain, and ran a personal best at the marathon event.
In this instance, the application of Helichrysum reduced pain (and likely inflammation as well) in the area, and supported regeneration of the damaged tendon tissues. The essential oil should prove just as effective with acute injuries as well – it’s noted ability to reduce the clotting of blood, along with it’s anti-inflammatory and tissue regenerative properties give it a seemingly complete natural arsenal to speed healing in most common sport-related injuries. In fact, this could extend to a very wide variety of trauma injuries, though great care should be taken to use as an adjunct to proper allopathic medical care in such cases.
Helichrysum is a somewhat rare and costly oil. It has been noted in the literature that only pure essential oil of Helichrysum italicum flowers will have this combination of effects. If you decide to try the oil for yourself, be sure of your source, and that the species is correct (there are other Helichrysum varieties, look for ones known as ‘Everlasting’ or ‘Immortelle’ – these are synonyms for the ‘italicum’ variety). For minor injuries, apply a thin film directly to the area one or more times a day. The oil will absorb directly into the skin, and does not cause any reaction or sensitivity for most individuals. The oil can be applied directly for more serious injuries as well, though this should be done only in conjunction with professional medical care. Continue to apply until no longer needed – application to broken tissue is fine, and in fact the oil has been used to speed skin healing and reduce scar formation. A base oil may also be used – Helichrysum combines well with Hazelnut and Rosehip seed oils, and can be diluted down to 5% of the total solution and still be effective. In any case, be aware of how your body is responding, and consult a medical professional whenever there is any question about your healing program.