Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative condition that affects the joints, causing pain and stiffness. According to Arthritis Research UK, it is ‘by far the most common form of joint disease, affecting people all over the world and approximately 8 million people in the UK’.1
In traditional Persian medicine textbooks, dating back as far as 980 to 1037 AD, chamomile has been highlighted as a tonic of the nervous system. It has also been used to help alleviate rheumatic and arthritic pain by different traditional medicines. As a rich source of terpenoids and flavonoids, chamomile is said to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-nociceptive effects.2
Eighty-four patients with OA of the knee attending an outpatient clinic in Iran were randomly allocated to one of three groups, receiving topical chamomile oil in a sesame oil carrier; diclofenac gel (a anti-inflammatory drug); or paraffin (a placebo). They were instructed to apply the preparation to their knee and surrounding tissue three times a day for three weeks, and not to massage it into the affected area. They were also allowed to take acetaminophen as an analgesic. Outcome measures included the need of a supplied analgesic, along with self-evaluation scores for pain, physical fitness and stiffness.
The results of the study showed that the chamomile preparation significantly reduced the patients’ need for acetaminophen compared to the diclofenac or placebo. In addition, the chamomile preparation showed some beneficial effects on pain, stiffness and physical activity in patients and no adverse effects were reported.
Study limitations highlighted by the authors include the use of sesame oil as the carrier oil, as sesame oil has ‘demonstrated anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anaesthetic activity, and beneficial effects in a compound herbal medicine for knee OA’. In addition, the study looked at the short-term effects of a chamomile intervention, when OA is a chronic (long-term) condition. Finally, only 15 percent of the patients were male.
The authors concluded that the efficacy of chamomile oil on knee OA should be further evaluated, using a larger sample size and longer follow-up period. They also highlighted that the effects of chamomile on other painful joints could be an interesting area for further research.
1. Arthritis Research UK (2012). Osteoarthritis [Information booklet.]. Accessed online 30 August, 2015. www.arthritisresearchuk.org/shop/products/publications/patient-information/conditions/osteoarthritis.aspx This information leaflet is free to download and contains exercises for people affected by osteoarthritis. 2. Shoara R, Hashempur MH, Ashraf A, et al (2015). Efficacy and safety of tropical Matricaria chamomilla L. (chamomile) oil for knee osteoarthritis: A randomized controlled clinical trial, Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 21: 181-187. Click here to read abstract.