The whole idea of abandoning the liniments we’ve used for decades for “another herbal remedy” causes horsemen like us to run to the farthest corner tightly clutching our Absorbine. But it also leads us to ask why.
The most obvious reason is practical: Many traditional products contain camphor, which is prohibited in recognized competitions. Fair enough. But do herbals actually work in our daily training routine, or are they simply a legal “in-between” treatment for shows'
In setting up this field test, we decided to exclude any products containing camphor or menthol. These ingredients are heavily represented in a wide range of liniments that do not make “herbal” claims, even though they, too, are technically “natural ingredients.” These highly aromatic oils work by creating a skin sensation that competes with the underlying pain (that hot/cold effect) and — because they are mildly irritating — stimulate circulation. These products have been used for hundreds of years because they work. (We did a comprehensive story on traditional liniments in February 1996. Absorbine, Bigeloil and Tuttle’s Elexer were our top picks.)
Gentle On The Skin
A major difference between purely herbal liniments and those containing menthol, camphor or salicylates (peppermint) is the absence of a skin sensation. We are so accustomed to expecting a strong hot/cold reaction when using a liniment that it just doesn’t seem like it could possibly work — but it does. Pain relief from ingredients like arnica is almost immediate but with no skin sensation at all. Some of the ingredients, like oil of lavender, also stimulate circulation, but they reportedly do this via a direct effect on blood vessels, not a nonspecific irritative effect on the skin.
Hand-in-hand with the lack of stimulation/irritation at skin level is a much lower incidence of skin reactions. In our trials, we had only one instance of a mild scurfing when an herbal product was used underneath a Neoprene sweat. The horse had an active case of cunean bursitis (irritation of the cunean bursa, located on the inside and front of the hock joint, in the area of the “jacks”).
There were several instances where horses with sore joints, tendons or muscles were treated with a traditional liniment on one leg and an herbal on the other. Skin reactions — either just skin scurfing or skin reaction plus swelling — were common with the traditional liniments, seen in 80% of acute problems, whether wrapped or not, including muscle sprains, even when diluting the liniments to as low as 25% of their original strength with witch hazel.
We tried the range of herbal liniments on overworked, tense muscles (including delayed muscle soreness — tightening and tenderness that shows up and peaks one to three days after a hard work), under routine standing wraps, under sweat wraps and on both old and new joint and tendon problems.
In some cases, a traditional liniment was tried alongside the herbal, e.g. one stifle, joint or muscle group rubbed with an herbal product, the other an old stand-by. We looked for:
1. Relief of muscle spasm/pain to touch, both immediate and long-term;
2. Relief of filling and tenderness in legs, including along tendons and suspensories as well as stocking-up in general;
3. Decreased joint swelling, improved flexibility and gait;
4. The degree of skin reaction.
Although we requested products for performance/sports-related problems, we also got a few we felt had a primary indication for skin problems, so we included them as well.
Arniflora, a human product also available for horses, is a gel form of arnica tincture. We found it extremely useful on bruises, bumps and kicks. It provided rapid pain relief and resolution of swelling in as little as 24 hours. Hematomas disappeared in just a few days when treated early and if appropriate measures were taken (bandaging where possible) to minimize movement in the area after the injury.
Arniflora is also helpful in relieving pain in muscles, tendons and joints, can be used to relieve the pain and swelling associated with insect bites and superficial skin irritations (like heel scratches). We found it helpful in controlling swelling at the coronary band associated with aggressive trimming (significant change in angle and shape of the foot) or inflammation of the foot from other causes (“sore-footed” horse). Horses seemed to walk more comfortably after Arniflora application to swollen coronary bands. (Indications and our results are similar to those given for Hilton Herbs Essential Arnica. Let price be your guide.)
Dr. Lee’s Leg Lotion target joints, both old and new problems, and is also appropriate for tendon and ligament problems. We found the product most effective on older joint problems, especially when combined with the product EOX.
For best effect, it needs to be used several times a day, and full results were not seen for two to three days (although in all fairness these old joints are often tougher to make comfortable). Dr. Lee’s Leg Lotion is pricey. However, horses do vary in their response to herbal ingredients so if a less-expensive product is not working as well as you hoped, consider this one.
EOX rub is a combination of pure emu oil and tea tree oil. The company also has another version that contains menthol (PRO Pain, which we did not test due to its menthol). We did not get as pronounced a pain-relieving effect with this product as we probably would with the PRO Pain version, but we did find it effective in controlling swelling, especially in “hot” areas, and safe to use under wraps. It is also wonderful for skin irritations, wounds and infections. Combining EOX with herbal products, particularly essential oils, enhances the effect.
Hilton Herbs Essential Arnica is another arnica-based product. Indications and our results are similar to those given for Arniflora, so compare available prices.
Hilton Herbs Leg-Aid is helpful in controlling the pain and swelling of tendon/ligament problems and joint pain associated with soft tissue irritations (synovitis, capsulitis). The lotion is creamy, which we like, so there is less waste than with thin liquids. Leg Aid is also extremely soothing to skin irritations and effective with chronic stocking-up. We would avoid using this with bandages until the acute inflammatory phase of an injury has been controlled.
Hilton Herbs Phytosalve is a terrific herbal massage lotion and also works well on swollen, bruised areas. We used it on a large area of swelling and fluid collection on a horse’s chest following a kick with complete resolution in 48 hours. It also makes a pleasant brace, diluted in wash water, after work.
Solid Gold Aloe-Biotin is a creamy skin lotion principally designed to handle skin irritations and swelling from any cause and does a terrific job. We routinely used it to treat skin reactions to traditional liniments and rarely required more than one application. It’s safe to use on superficial breaks in the skin, including heel scratches. It does a wonderful job of controlling swelling, including the swelling associated with minor injuries and sprains.
Sore No-More (Equilite) is a pleasant-smelling liquid (smells like sweet vermouth), containing four active herbal ingredients in a base of witch hazel-extract. It is extremely gentle to the skin but effective in pain relief. When used as a routine rub under standing bandages, legs were always cool and tight the next day. It is also extremely effective on tight, painful muscles, including the often overworked hamstrings and pectorals.
We found pain/resistance to touch often disappears before you are finished massaging it in. Improved freedom of movement — as well as less resistance from the horse when the leg is picked up and moved/stretched by the examiner — is obvious.
Sore No-More also improved joint range of movement and gait when used on sore stifles, hocks, knees and ankles. Tendons showed less pain on palpation and decreased swelling.
Even swelling that was resistant to wrapping and ice responded to Sore No-More. It worked on both new and old problem areas but was somewhat more dramatic and predictable in effect on recent problems. It appears to have potent and direct anti-inflammatory actions, relieving pain, heat and swelling without any irritation. It works equally well without wrapping. When massaged in liberally and well four times a day on acute problems, we found it yields results equivalent to icing or hosing.
Sore No-More was also extremely effective on swelling/stocking-up. We used it on a mare who developed odd jelly-like swellings over her tendons and knees with complete return to normal in under 12 hours. (Plain arnica was 50% successful. Other herbals had no effect.) Sore No-More is also available as a gel.
Tea Tree ADE Ointment is a skin treatment cream in an economical solid ointment form. We suggest this any time you would routinely reach for an antibiotic wound cream. Injuries heal rapidly with no sign of infection. It is terrific for “rain rot” and other skin infections, including persistent low-grade fungal infections characterized by flaking of the skin, grayish skin and loss of hair.
Our hands-down choice as an all-purpose liniment and rub to keep on hand for old and for new problems — whether muscle, tendon, ligament or joint — is Sore No-More (Equilite).
While the two arnica-based liniments (Arniflora and Hilton Herbs Essential Arnica) were also helpful in relieving pain in muscles, tendons and joints, they didn’t outdo Sore No-More. Swelling was also well managed by several of the herbals, but the pain relief and removal of heat with Sore No-More was unsurpassed.
Although Dr. Lee’s Leg Lotion is as effective as Sore No-More in chronic joint problems, it’s considerably more expensive. However, since horses do vary in their response to herbal ingredients, if Sore No-More is not working as well as you hoped, then consider Dr. Lee’s.
While the Tea Tree ADE Ointment did not fit as a liniment, we had impressive results in treating a variety of skin infections and recommend it for that.
Also With This Article
Click here to view "Effective Relief: Massage It All."
Click here to view "Herbal Liniment Products Ingredients."
Click here to view "Storage Of Liniments."
Click here to view "Reasonable Expectations."
Click here to view "Ingredients And Their Effects."
Click here to view "New-Wave vs. Old-Time."
Click here to view "Application Guidelines."