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Stinging nettle

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Stinging nettle classification

Stinging nettle is applied to the skin to give a counterirritant effect which can override musculoskeletal pain. There’s little evidence available on the use of nettle leaves for osteoarthritis: one study suggested a positive effect in the short-term treatment of osteoarthritis of the thumb but another found no beneficial effect in the short-term treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee.

What is it?

Family: Herbal medicine of the nettle (Urticaceae) family
Scientific name: Urtica dioica
Other names: Common perennial nettle

Stinging nettle is a plant native to Europe, Asia, and North America. You can buy capsules from high-street shops, although the trials below applied nettle leaves to participants’ skin.

How does it work?

Nettle leaves are covered in tiny hairs which have a high silicon content, meaning they’re extremely brittle. When the leaf touches your skin, the round tips of the hairs break off. The sharp point of the hair then enters your skin and several chemicals, including histamine and serotonin, are produced. These chemicals can help to reduce pain by stimulating pain neurons, so the skin irritation overrides musculoskeletal pain.

Is it safe?

You can apply stinging nettle to the skin around the painful area. Common side-effects include itching and a tingling sensation. Because it can be applied to the skin, it’s unlikely that it’ll affect other medications.
We don’t have much information about dosage, but nettle leaves were applied to the painful area for two 30-second periods for one week in one study.

Stinging nettle trials for osteoarthritis

A summary of trial evidence for this complementary medicine.

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