Cramp Bark and Ginger Fomentation: Herbs for Back Pain

As the name strongly suggests, cramp bark is fabulous for stopping cramps. It works well for muscle cramps, like when you throw out your back, menstrual cramps or even restless legs.

After reading this article I’ll bet there will be a few of you out there thinking, “Why go to all the trouble? Why not simply pop some ibuprofen?”

Most people tend to think of over-the-counter medicines as being safe. However, According to the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), each year the side effects of NSAIDs hospitalize over 100,000 people and kill 16,500 people in the U.S. alone.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t feel very safe to me!

Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) can be a reliable and safe alternative to NSAIDs. One of the herbs for back pain, it specifically helps relax tissues and relieve tension.

In fact, cramp bark is used for the following issues: menstrual cramps, muscle cramps, early labor, miscarriage, pain, difficulty urinating, bowel cramps (IBS), diarrhea, child enuresis (bedwetting), spasmodic coughing, asthma, arthritis, muscle strain, seizures, high blood pressure, and lockjaw (interesting historic use).

I often reach for cramp bark when I’ve got back pain.

Have you ever “thrown out your back”?

I have, countless times.

One minute you’re doing a seemingly innocent thing like picking something off the floor (or you’re totally overdoing it gardening) and bam! something slips out of place and the pain increases steadily until lifting your pinky finger creates excruciating pain.

After a while the muscles around the area seize up, which immobilizes you even more.

This forced immobility is not necessarily a bad thing! Those seized muscles are protecting this vulnerable area. The holistic approach here is rest! Popping some pills or herbs and then heading back out to the garden is not a good idea and it can injure you further.

I often use cramp bark as a fomentation over cramped muscles when I’ve thrown out my back and I rest and stay mostly immobilized. The cramp bark fomentation significantly decreases the discomfort, but I am also not going to push myself too much and increase the risk of further injury.

Fomen-what?

A fomentation is basically a strained herbal decoction, that is then applied to the area using a cloth.

This fomentation works well for major pain but can also help with more common muscle spasms as well. For example, it can be used when you sleep wrong and have a “crick” in your neck (usually a muscle spasm). Or it can be used over the abdomen for menstrual cramps.

Besides cramp bark I also add ginger and cayenne to this mix. Both of these herbs stimulate circulation and reduce inflammation. This combination has helped me through many painful situations!

To make this recipe you’ll need:

  • 1/4 cup dried ginger
  • 1/4 cup cramp bark
  • 1 tablespoon of cayenne powder
  • 2 cups of water

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First, add the ginger…

The cramp bark…

And cayenne…

…to a pan filled with two cups of water.

Simmer the herbs in water for at least twenty minutes.

Keep the pan covered while simmering

Strain.

Let cool until you can touch the tea comfortably, but it is still warm.

Soak a washcloth in the mixture.

Wring out the cloth so that it is no longer dripping but not absolutely dry.

Cover the affected area with the cloth.

You may want to put another towel or cloth over this smaller cloth to protect the skin from the hot water bottle.

Place a hot water bottle over the cloth.

Cover with a towel. Let this fomentation sit for at least 20 minutes.

Sometimes I leave mine on for up to an hour. It feels so good!

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