And the Placebo Costs Less, Too

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, March 1999

And the Placebo Costs Less, Too
The results ù such as they are ù have come in on the latest wonder herb

By Michael Kessler

Before bustling off to the natural foods market to restock your spring first-aid kit, there's something you should know about the popular herb arnica. Homeopaths have long used it to relieve bruising, but more recently elite athletes have followed suit, assuming the flower's power must also ease another sort of tissue damage: delayed-onset muscle soreness, that postworkout tenderness caused by lactic-acid buildup. Andrew Vickers, research director at London's Research Council for Complementary Medicine, decided to test the theory. He enlisted 400 runners of all abilities. The night before a race and for four days after, 200 got arnica and 200 got a placebo. The results? All the runners, many of whom completed the London Marathon, judged themselves equally sore. "Despite what athletes have said in favor of arnica, we found that it had the same ineffectiveness as the placebos," says Vickers, who recently published the results of his six-month study in the wonderfully titled Clinical Journal of Pain. That's OK, though, especially if you know the best advice for treating delayed-onset muscle soreness: drink lots of water, get a massage, and take a long soak in a hot tub.

Illustration by Jonathon Rosen

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