Stinging nettle has been used as medicine for thousands of years, mainly due to its effects on alleviating allergies and inflammation.1 Scientific studies on nettle have already validated some of its long-standing traditional uses, although the exact mechanisms behind its properties are not always well understood. In this UK-based trial, researchers evaluated the effects of nettle on arthritis pain.
This crossover trial was conducted on 27 adults, experiencing pain at the base of the thumb or index finger. All participants were clinically diagnosed with osteoarthritis.
During the first week, half of the patients applied stinging nettle leaves to the painful areas, while the other half applied deadnettle leaves (the placebo). Then there was a washout period of five weeks, and patients switched treatments for another week.
For each treatment, patients were instructed to cut a leaf and apply the underside to the arthritis-affected area (the thumb or index finger) for 30 seconds, once daily.
Using various assessment tools, researchers evaluated participants' levels of pain and disability after both treatments.
After one week of using nettle, participants showed significantly greater reductions in scores for pain and disability than those in the placebo group. The use of analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs also decreased.
Although not statistically significant, there was a slight improvement in sleep when applying nettle leaves. This is important as more than 20% of the participants previously reported sleep problems due to pain.
There were no serious side effects recorded throughout the study period. Due to its natural stinging effects, nettle caused a localized rash and slight itching, which were well tolerated by most participants.
What Does this Mean?
Though nettle has long been used by arthritis sufferers to relieve pain, this trial provides solid scientific evidence of efficacy of using stinging nettle for arthritis.
More than half of the participants preferred nettle treatment over their usual treatment with analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs. After all, applying stinging nettle to arthritis-affected areas is not only easy, but also cost-effective and free of side effects.
Other herbs that may offer great benefits for arthritis include turmeric, ginger, cat's claw, and devil's claw.
- Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Randomized controlled trial of nettle sting for treatment of base-of-thumb pain, 2000
- American Botanical Council. (2018). Food as Medicine Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica, Urticaceae). Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://www.herbalgram.org/resources/herbalegram/volumes/volume-15/number-7-july/food-as-medicine-stinging-nettle-urtica-dioica-urticaceae/food-as-medicine/