White Willow Bark for Pain in Arthritis?
Answered by: Susan Eagles
Question from: Muriel
Posted on: October 19, 2003

I would like to know more about White Willow Bark. A few years ago I had back surgery for Spinal Stenosis, Since then I am still in pain and have tried a lot of things, from epidurals prescription pain meds-accupuncture-physical therapy, walking, exercise and have been told by the Mayo Clinic that there is nothing else that they can do for me. They say I have scar tissue and Arthritis.

Where can I purchase White Willow Bark? As of now I am taking Percoset 5/325 --2-3 tablets daily Celebrex 200mg twice daily. Would I have to stop taking these meds for a certain length of time before I started the White Willow? Is there also a diet I should be on? For instance I have heard certain foods like tomatoes are not good for arthritis.

White willow bark (Salix alba) contains salicylic acid, which was synthesised as acetylsalicylic acid and now called aspirin. Because white will bark is a whole herb, rather than a single chemical, it is better tolerated by the body than other pain relievers and does not cause side effects such as intestinal inflammation. It works well to relieve inflammation, joint, muscle and nerve pain, and fevers. You should be able to purchase white willow bark at a health food store, often in combination with other anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving herbs. The dried bark is available at Richters. To make a tea from the dried bark, simmer gently 1/2 teaspoon of dried bark to each cup of water, for 1 minute, then let the mixture steep for 15 minutes. The dose is 1/2 to 1 cup, three times daily.

In arthritis, it is most important to ensure that digestion and bowel elimination are in good form, so that nutrients are well absorbed by the body and toxins are eliminated. Improving the digestive function requires a holistic approach, involving diet and exercise as well as the use of herbs. I suggest that you visit a medical herbalist or a naturopath in order to get the most appropriate advice to optimize your individual health. You will some suggestions for improving digestion on our website at http://www.richters.com, and choose "Q&A". Enter "digest" for one search and "intestinal" for a second search, and "constipation" for a third search.

In osteoarthritis, we use herbs to nourish the blood to increase its healing actions on the joints, herbs to move blood to the affected area, herbs to decrease inflammation. Additionally, glucosamine sulphate helps to repair the joint tissue. For more information on herbs and diet for arthritis, please see our previous answers on our website by searching for "arthritis".

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is an effective tissue healer. It should be applied externally, over the affected area. If you have access to a comfrey plant, mash the leaves or root using a food processor or a rolling pin, and apply. Alternatively you can use a compress: simmer 3 tablespoons of dried root (available at health food stores or from Richters) in 2 cups of water for 10 minutes; saturate a tea towel and apply. You may also be able to find comfrey creams or ointments, but they may not have as powerful an effect as the fresh plant.

When coming off medication, it is wise to decrease the dosage gradually, one drug at a time. We usually increase the dosage of herbs while decreasing the drug dosage. So, for example, if you decrease one drug by 1/4 for one week, you can take 1/4 dosage of white willow, then increase the white willow dosage while you decrease the drug dosage. Gradual reduction is easier for your body to handle, and will let you assess how you are doing without the drug. The half-life of both of the drugs you are taking is short. The drugs are completely out of your system within 2-3 days. By making the change gradually, and by taking the whole plant rather than acetylsalicylic acid, it is unlikely that you will risk stomach ulcers as is the warning in taking both celebrex and aspirin.

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