Natural Solutions for Stiff and Frozen Joints

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Joint Stiffness

Over the past couple years I’ve done a lot of traveling and teaching. One thing I can count on at every conference is a line of folks asking for a bit of advice. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the job. I often hear the same questions city after city. These questions give me ideas for new articles, they sometimes get me dreaming about a new book idea, and they always tell me what people really want to hear.

Many times I have a quick answer, but sometimes I promise to go back and do some research. Last year I started to get questions about joint mobility. This is a different issue than arthritis, although I hear that one a lot as well. I still owe the woman who asked me about her stiff ankle, so I thought this week I’d finally get an answer out for her!

Joint stiffness can be caused by a number of issues. Age springs to mind. I have been known to have a bit of trouble getting my legs and back going after sitting too long and I’m merely “middle-aged.”

Joint Stiffness and Scar Tissue

In the case of the woman who originally asked the question, the stiffness was the result of joint surgery. She had recovered nicely, but the joint in her ankle had tightened up. This was most likely due to both inactivity during injury and the subsequent recovery, as well as the development of scar tissue.

Castor Oil

In the case of scar tissue I tend to go to an old stand-by. Castor oil can be purchased in just about any drug store (you can find it online here). A warm castor oil pack can help to dissolve scar tissue that binds up a joint and restricts movement. Warm the castor oil to just above body temperature in the oven and dip an old cloth in. The cloth can be applied and left in place for at least half an hour daily until there is a change in symptoms.

Herbs for Joint Stiffness

There are three very good choices when mobility has been compromised in a joint that has become too tight.

Elder (Sambucus canadensis)

This native shrub in my area is a wonder of versatility. We tend to know about the berries, but the flower, bark, and leaves can all be used as well. For sore joints it is the leaves that are the most helpful.

You may dry the leaves and use them moistened and applied under a cloth or you may apply the fresh and crumpled leaves directly to the area. Once or twice a day until your symptoms diminish is fine.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

A topical application of the soft, furry leaves of mullein can relieve tightness in just about any joint, though I tend to hear most about its use on the back.

Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)

This herb is a threatened medicinal species (per United Plant Savers) so be sure that you are sourcing your lobelia responsibly. I love lobelia internally for hiccoughs, but externally it can be infused into an oil or a liniment and then applied to the stiff or tight joints in your body that are giving you trouble.

Moving to Reduce Stiff Joints

Along with any natural product that you may choose to unfreeze those uncooperative joints, you must move. Using the area will begin to bring back mobility and encourage blood flow through the area surrounding your joint. Moving your body should never be overlooked as part of an herbal therapy, but it is especially important in this case.

Have you ever used natural solutions for frozen joints? If so, what has worked for you? Share in the comments section!


About Dawn Combs

Dawn is a wife, mother, farmer, author, ethnobotanist, professional speaker, and educator. She has over 20 years of ethnobotanical experience, is a certified herbalist, and has a B.A. in Botany and Humanities/Classics. Dawn is co-owner of Mockingbird Meadows Farm. Her books include Conceiving Healthy Babies and Heal Local.

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  1. Lorene says

    A question for Matt. This has nothing to do with this subject but I was wondering if you tried the vinegar/water spray for your sinus’s and if so, did it help?

  2. Cindy says

    I have found Arnica the most helpful for pain and swelling associated with arthritis. You can purchase at health food stores or search homemade recipes in Pinterest!!

  3. Hans Quistorff, LMP says

    As I work with clients, movement is key, as you stated.
    Gail asked
    What about stiff and sore muscles, not related to over working or stressing them? This has been going on for about five months now.

    This condition is generally caused by uneven movement causing repetitive stress injury. There is a condition called antalgic posture. Ant- refers to against and algic to pain therefore when one olds a body part in an asymmetric position to avoid pain it causes the repetitive stress and results in pain somewhere else.
    Locating and treating the area that is not moving usually resolves the problem

  4. Gail says

    What about stiff and sore muscles, not related to over working or stressing them? This has been going on for about five months now.
    Thanks, Gail

    • Nancy says

      Gail, re: sore and stiff muscles w/o strain, as a nurse my first thought would be complications from cholesterol medicine. If you are taking any of them, I would report the symptoms to your health care professional. One of the many side effects is muscle problems. Even red rice which is much better than a simvastin can cause those problems. Muscles require a delicate vitamin and mineral balance to function properly. Evaluate supplements you may be taking for potassium, sodium, calcium, and a host of others that should be balanced. Remember the most important muscle of your body is your heart. If you are upsetting your muscles, you may also be upsetting your heart. Not knowing your health history, age, diet, etc. makes it a little difficult to know what to look for. I don’t think I would ignore the symptoms any longer. Nearly 6 months is plenty long enough to know something is a miss. I hope you are able to find the cause and feel better soon.

  5. Susie M says

    I have bad knees as well as most of my right side – ankle thru shoulder from past injuries that can get very painful – but if I can stick to drinking a glass of warm filtered water with the juice of an organic lemon (and some organic honey to taste) every morning, the inflammation throughout my body is reduced – along with the bags under my eyes – allergies are reduced and I’m as regular as clockwork – until I eat processed foods including bread and pasta (sigh). It’s the most consistent thing that’s ever worked for me – and occasionally soaking in a warm bath with soothing Epsom salts.

  6. Gayle Marty says

    I have a case of bad knees and they get so stiff and swollen that they seem to block the command center that delivers the messages to my legs to do my bidding. The damage is due to injuries and probably scar tissue resulting from these injuries. This makes my response to go faster or lift my leg higher very slow which causes more injuries. In your article you lightly touch on castor oil, elder, lobelia, & mullen which i have a lot of. Do you have a class on line that I could sign up for or a book on making the oils, liniments, or poultices, that I can try and see if any thing works. As I am a gardener and farmer and this hitch in my git-a-long is really cramping my style. And so far no western Dr. has not done any good they just tell me I’m getting old. Thank you for your thoughts. Gayle

  7. Kim McClure says

    Something else to consider is getting a massage. Massage is not considered the luxury that it once was. Massage is now recognized in the medical field to help with things like scar tissue from surgery decreased range of motion, frozen joints,repetitive stress injury, etc. It doesn’t necessarily need to be expensive either; finding a therapist in private practice that can do 30 minute sessions on just where you’re hurting for a fraction of the price of a full body massage will cost you. Some public estatic establishments will also do shorter sessions but you may have to inquire.