Despite the image of Aromatherapy as lacking in scientific foundation in the United States, the use of pure, therapeutic grade essential oil for medical applications is common throughout much of Europe. The essential oil distilled from the flowers of Helichrysum Italicum is well-known for its broad range of actions, which can support healing of many common sports-related injuries. The essential oil’s compounds are known to prevent and relieve blood clotting (helpful for bruising), stimulate tissue regeneration, act as a powerful anti-oxidant, and can reduce inflammation. This combination of effects many help with injuries such as twists and sprains, bruises, tendonitis and the like. Any dedicated athlete would greatly welcome such a non-toxic, effective alternative healing remedy!
From a scientific standpoint, the alternative medicine aspects of aromatherapy deals with the interaction of a wide array of natural plant chemicals with human physiological systems. Each essential oil is many, sometimes hundreds, of individual chemical constituents. These often work in concert to provide a dmso solution x – a result that is greater than the application of each phytochemical alone. A great example is the combination of chemical compounds in Eucalyptus Radiata essential oil – it has been called an ‘aromatherapists designer oil’ because of it’s mix of anti-viral, expectorant, and anti-inflammatory components, plus a pleasing aroma, make it helpful in treating certain types of cold symptoms. Helichrysum Italicum contains a great synergy in it’s own way – it’s constituent chemicals are known to reduce inflammation, signal tissue regeneration, remove clotted blood, relax tissues and reduce pain.
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.
The synergistic effects of the compounds found in Helichrysum oil address the physiological processes involved in such injuries directly. First the anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting effects reduce the secondary damage (occurring in acute injuries, or, for example, just after a training bout that has made a chronic injury flare-up). The anti-oxidant properties also prevent further cellular damage from occurring. The analgesic effects are a nice addition, possibly reducing the need for oral pain-relief medications of questionable toxicity. Finally, the tissue regenerating effects help re-grow all damaged tissue, and can even help prevent scarring from cuts and open wounds.
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.