Q. Can natural remedies and supplements help heal sprains?

A. Sprains—injuries to ligaments, tendons, or other connective tissue—do respond well to a number of natural remedies. First, use the RICE technique (Rest, Ice the swollen area, Compress with a bandage or tape, and Elevate the injury above your heart) to control swelling and pain.

Next, try topical herbs that have been shown to ease pain and inflammation and promote recovery. Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) gel reduces swelling; apply every two hours until the swelling goes down. Arnica (Arnica montana) ointment applied several times daily or homeopathic arnica taken internally can ease pain and speed recovery, especially if treatment is started soon after the injury occurs.

To help speed healing, enzyme supplements (such as bromelain, papain, or a combination of trypsin and chymotrypsin) have a proven track record for athletic injuries, including sprains. These enzymes quell inflammation and help tissues heal. Enzyme potency varies by type and by preparation, so follow label instructions for dosage. It's also a good idea to take a basic multivitamin/mineral supplement, because a wide variety of nutrients participate in tissue repair. In particular, make sure to get 500 mg of vitamin C and 15 mg of zinc in your multi, or you can add these as separate supplements.

This Q&A was written by Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, a health journalist based in the Pacific Northwest, where she and her family enjoy hiking and cycling.