Homeopathy and Sports Injuries.


The Society of Homeopaths have been proudly kicking off their Homeopathy Awareness Week.

This year, their focus is on how homeopathy can help with sports injuries. Their press release ties into the Summer of sports we are going to have, obviously crowned with the Olympics in London.

They say,

As the country goes sporting mad this summer, homeopathy will be called on as a holistic way to sprint back to good health following minor injuries. In the 2010 Winter Olympics, one in every ten athletes sustained an injury, said a report in the  British Journal of Sports Medicine, with the most common ailments being bruising, torn ligaments and muscular strain.

So, what role can homeopathy play in sports injuries?

The Society kick of with an appeal to popularity  and an appeal to celebrity endorsement,

Well known sports personalities are among the six million users of homeopathy in the UK, including soccer star David Beckham, tennis stars Boris Becker and Martina Navratilova, and rugby player Will Greenwood.

So, how do the Society back up their claim that there are six million users of homeopathy in the UK?

They cite the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee  Evidence Check on Homeopathy.

The 6 million figure comes from a verbal statement made by Professor Kent Woods when questioned about the justification for the licensing regime. He said “10 per cent of the population use these products”. This statement is unreferenced and unqualified. So,we don’t know if these people are regular users,one off users, or have used other herbal remedies in the mistaken belief that homeopathic means ’natural’.

No matter what, the Society will not be quoting the rest of Professor Woods speech because he is talking about the need to remove homeopathic remedies that make unevidenced and dangerous claims.

Nor will they reference the rest of the report that comes to the overall conclusion that,

Homeopathy is not supported by evidence of efficacy and is therefore no more than a placebo treatment, albeit a popular one.

Given the Society’s first reference rather makes the rest of their press release redundant, what stunts do they try to pull?

The first claim is made for sprained ankles,

A placebo-controlled trial found that a cream containing 14 homeopathic medicines (including Arnica) was effective for treating sprained ankles (2).

The paper was rather hard to track down. It’s a quarter of a century old and originally published in German. However, the manufacturer of the cream does host an English copy in its website, supposedly published in the obscure journal, Biological Therapy.

The paper appears to be positive about the use of the product Traumeel. But that is the problem. Traumeel is a branded product containing measurable quantities of ingredients. It is not homeopathic in the way Society of Homeopathy say homeopathy ought to be done,

Homeopathic medicine is based on treating the individual with specially prepared, highly diluted substances given mainly in tablet form.

Traumeel is a cream prepared to the principles of something called Homotoxicology – a splinter philosophy of homeopathy founded by Hans-Heinrich Reckeweg who went on to found the company, Heel, that makes the product. Homotoxicology is pseudoscience based on the incorrect idea that disease is caused by the body trying to expel toxins. In a review of trials of Homotoxicology, it was found that all positive trials were found to have significant flaws. The Cochrane Review of treatments ankle sprains says this Traumeel paper has data that is “too marginal to draw definite conclusions”.

Even if the result was valid, as Traumeel is an unlicensed medical product in the UK, it would be illegal to supply it to athletes at the Olympic Games. Well done, the Society of Homeopaths.

Next up.

The Society says,

Research studies have also suggested that Arnica can have an anti-inflammatory effect (3)

They reference, Jens-Hagen K, et. al. Efficacy of Arnica montana D4 for Healing of Wounds After Hallux Valgus Surgery Compared to Diclofenac. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2008; 14(1): 17-25

This paper compares moderately diluted arnica with a NSAID, diclofenac. The paper showed that arnica was equivalent in effect to diclofenac for irritation, rubor (redness) and swelling. Great. But of course, it rests on the assumption that diclofenac is effective in these areas. In the case of pain management, a major reason people take NSAIDs, the homeopathy proved to be inferior. This result is not highlighted by the Society of Homeopaths.

Finally, the Society claim that Arnica can reduce bruising and cite a paper by Brook M, et al, entitled, Effect of homeopathic Arnica montana on bruising in face-lifts.

Naturally, this paper should be of great interest to any athlete at the Olympics who wants to take advantage of being in London to undergo a face-lift.

So, should athletes use Arnica after their Olympic face-lift?

I have only read the abstract, but it is pretty clear.

No subjective differences were noted between the treatment group and the control group, either by the patients or by the professional staff. No objective difference in the degree of color change was found.

The Society of Homeopaths appear to be presenting as evidence yet another negative trial as if it supported their magic sugar pills. One can only conclude that they hope no-one reads their footnotes and references.

They may be trying to squeeze a result out of the paper that shows some measurement on some days were statistically significant for homeopathy. When one makes lots of measurements, some of those measurements will pass a test of statistical significance even though the overall result is negative. To present such data points as positive evidence is a great scientific sin.

In conclusion, they try to claim homeopathy is effective over all by referencing the Bornhöft and Matthiessen report,

Scientific research evidence for homeopathic medicine is growing. For example, a comprehensive and academically authoritative report commissioned by the Swiss government to assess the potential value of homeopathy, has concluded that homeopathy is clinically effective, cost-effective and safe. These findings have lead to inclusion of homeopathy in the Swiss national health insurance scheme.

Others disagree with the Society’s assessment of this report. I have written how it tries to skirt around fundamental problems in homeopathy by appealing to ‘spiritual science’. The authors are Anthroposophists who believe that science can be extended by reference to the clairvoyant revelations of their founder Rudolf Steiner. Steiner built his philosophy on a racist view of human development, a belief in karma and reincarnation, and the literal existence of gnomes,angels and Atlantis. The report was written by a group of homeopaths under the editorship of academics at the University of Witten/Herdecke in Germany, a private Anthroposophical University that specialises in training doctors in homeopathy. It is not an independent report.

David Shaw of the University of Glasgow has written a review of the report entitled, “The Swiss report on homeopathy: a case study of research misconduct”.

The report states,

The present paper has established that the authors of this report adopted a very unusual strategy in what should have been an impartial evidence appraisal. It appears that their goal was not to provide an independent assessment but to choose criteria that would lead to their chosen conclusion that homeopathy is effective.

In doing so the authors have distorted the evidence and misled the public; these actions, combined with their conflicts of interest, strongly suggest that they are guilty of research misconduct. It is extremely unfortunate that the Swiss government lent legitimacy to this report by attaching its name to it.

The Society claim that the Swiss government used the report to include homeopathy in the Swiss insurance scheme. This is not true.

The Swiss governments position is discussed by Zeno, and was summed up by the statement,

Unquestionably, strict proponents of the usual hierarchy of evidence will regard the presented evaluations as scientifically untenable and unreasonably positive (except for some specific aspects of phytotherapy). Even less skeptical academic doctors will regard many interpretations as very optimistic and not scientifically convincing.

The Swiss government continued a temporary inclusion of homeopath on condition that a new review is undertaken.

The Society of Homeopaths are misleading the public by making these claims that homeopathy can help with sports injuries. It cannot. Homeopathy is just sugar pills and a nice chat. But by deceiving people, real harm can be done if they chose to rely on homeopathy for serious conditions.

It’s Homeopathy Awareness Week. I hope we are now aware how the Society of Homeopaths cherry picks evidence, is selective in its appraisal of that evidence, and misleads about the content of research papers in order to benefit the businesses of its members.

Update 20/6/2012

So, the Society of Homeopaths have gone back to their press release and amended their online version.

The original version said,

A placebo-controlled trial found that a cream containing 14 homeopathic medicines (including Arnica) was effective for treating sprained ankles (2). Research studies have also suggested that Arnica can have an anti-inflammatory effect (3) and reduce bruising (4), which may help to explain why so many people choose to use this homeopathic remedy for common injuries.

It now reads,

Research studies investigating the effects of Arnica have had mixed results; those which have shown a positive effect include a placebo-controlled trial which found that a cream containing 14 homeopathic medicines (including Arnica) was effective for treating sprained ankles (2). Other studies have also suggested that Arnica can have an anti-inflammatory effect (3) and reduce bruising (4), which may help to explain why so many people choose to use this homeopathic remedy for common injuries.

It’s not much better given that none of their references support the use of homeopathy for sports injuries. Once again, even this amended statement is misleading. There have been two general systematic reviews on the the trials of homeopathic arnica. One was negative, the other could not draw conclusions.

The Society feel they can ignore the totality of the evidence and still continue to cherry pick those studies they feel suit their agenda. Having had their errors pointed out, they continue to promote nonsense conclusions from poor science. As they say, homeopaths use clinical trials as a drunk uses a lamp-post – for support rather than illumination.

I think it is a bit naughty going back and amending old press-releases. People who would have seen the original would not be aware that the Society has now changed its mind (even if it is ever so slightly.) A transparent organisation would issue a new press release highlighting the issue. But that would admit fallibility. And that would not do.


37 Comments on Homeopathy and Sports Injuries.

  1. Excellent piece.
    There are so many omissions and misrepresentations in the SoH’s claims here, I’d say it’s impossible for any sober, intelligent individual to conclude it was anything other than deliberate. Accentuate the positive (which is trivial and marginal) while ignoring the negative (which is substantial and profound).
    The intended audience is the majority of uninformed individuals who are either too busy, lazy, or otherwise unable to become informed or check the claims being made. And, anyway, homeopathy is legal so “it must be ok”. Boots’ sell it so “it must be ok”, although they only sell it because there is a demand generated by the fact that they sell it, because there is a demand etc.

    While the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report refers to “…a placebo treatment…” as being “…a popular one”, which of course the SoH are never, ever going to admit, it would be more accurate to refer to this particular “placebo treatment” as being a “highly successful medical scam”. Because in reality that is exactly what it is.

  2. Personal incredulity and all that…but for a major awareness-raising campaign that many homeopathic trade bodies and individual homeopathists everywhere push so hard and with so much fervour…and that’s all they can come up with??? Seriously?

    Unbelievable. Just like homeopathy.

  3. ‘Traumeel is a branded product containing measurable quantities of ingredients.’

    This has never stopped your genuine homeopath claiming that it is a homeopathic preparation. Zicam was readily accepted until the active materials were shown to be toxic.

    And arnica as a homeopathic treatment of bruising always amuses me. Presumably they have proof that zero concentrations of arnica causes bruising in healthy individuals.

  4. Great article…so great that the “bullies” have already chimed in with their venom. Little do these “medical fundamentalists” realize that we use venom for healing…and we have sincere sympathies for these deniers and flat-earthers. They are so cute when they get upset at the many types of evidence that homeopathy continually shows.

    • “…many types of evidence that homeopathy continually shows”. Do you really, seriously, believe that? How sweet!

      Seriously, though – Did you not pay attention to the part of your degree which taught biostatistics?

      • Dullman says he has a degree? Is that in Farenheit?

        Dullman says a lot of stuff, most of it demonstrably complete rubbish. Personally I can’t remember anything he’s ever written about homeopathy that isn’t rooted in his own private universe, well away from the inconveniences of reality.

    • It’s so cute when the pro-homeopathy crowd misunderstands critical evaluation and thinks it’s bullying. It makes me want to pat their heads and tell them “It’s okay, someday you’ll understand what the grown ups are talking about.” Then I remember that so many of them are old enough to be my parents and I realise that they’ll probably never understand why all these people are “so mean”. What a sad thought.

      *gives Dana Ullman a virtual pat on the head*

    • Dana, in what way is an article that cites sources and then claims the precise opposite of what those sources conclude, “great”? Unless you mean great as in comedy gold? In which case I’d agree with you.

    • Hahahahahaha. A professional idiot, money-grubbing bullshitter and ignoramus makes an irrelevant noise.

      Dullman, the U.S.of A’s foremost authority on homeoquackery has yet to produce a single actual, properly documented case of his quackery ever incontrovertibly curing anything at all. This in spite of it being requested many times of a few years now. Not a single case.
      After 200+ years any sane and rational person would be entitled to expect millions of verifiable examples. The evidence should be overwhelming. But it overwhelmingly isn’t showing up for the Internet’s favourite medical huckster.

      It’s a real mystery how homeopathy can cure all the word’s diseases but every single time it’s asked to perform in public it lays down and dies. Maybe it’s like the fairies at the end of my garden – they only come out when absolutely no-one is looking (except Dullman).

  5. I meant to say that the original article was great, not the one by Mr. Duck. The fact that Mr. Duck is so compelled to respond to it means that the original article was that worthy.

    • Would you like to respond to the actual points I have made?

      Have the Society misrepresented their sources?

      As an expert in this area, you must have an opinion?

  6. @Dana

    On the 11th of June on Twitter, you asked lecanardnoir, “Do you or do you not “believe” in polypharmacy?”

    I notice that one of the studies cited by what you describe here as a “great article” was of “a cream containing 14 homeopathic medicines”.

    Dana, do you or do you not believe in polypharmacy?

    • Deary me! Dullman is asked a reasonable question. Dullman refuses to respond to the question. Quel surprise.

      Can I take it that Dullman’s blank refusal to respond directly to any critical question put to him, ever, is an indicator of his awareness of the untenability and dishonesty of his chosen “profesional” activity?

  7. Could Professor Woods not use his Moral Rights under copyright to ask for the quote to be removed as it supposrt a view he is opposed to?

      • No, it’s post and run, I think.

        The frustrating thing is that, we know that he basically cannot sustain a logical case, so we would utterly humiliate him, and somewhere inside that shiny dome of his, he probably suspects the same. So, he runs away.

  8. I have only read the abstract [of the study of arnica for post-facelift bruising], but it is pretty clear.

    I looked at the full paper when Nancy Malik spammed it to the Hawk/Handsaw blog a while back. It appeared that two out of 25 measurements achieved significance.

    Incidentally the full text is available free via the link from the pubmed page.

    • And 1 in 20 means a result is statistically significant, so 2 in 25 is exactly 1.6 times more significant.

      I can do maffs, me.

      • No, no, no, you forget the way homeopathy works. The more diluted the positive findings the MORE significant the result. I’ve managed to get my own homeopathic remedy down to a 1 in 1,000 significance, but I’m hopeful I can make it even stronger by getting results in only 1 out of 10,000 cases.

      • None of this would matter so much if we could pay the shifty buggers with homoeopathically diluted money.

    • Well, to be fair, 2 out of 25 does not in itself mean that the result is worthless. If the p-values were very low, such that they might survive e.g. a Bonferroni correction, one could still argue that there’s a significant effect.

      Alas, the values quoted are 0.005 and 0.001 and the observed effect is inconsistent over time, so this here is in fact hardly spectacular.

      Full, free article link for the lazy: http://archfaci.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?doi=10.1001/archfaci.8.1.54

  9. DUllman appears like a virus on various sceptic websites. Posts and runs.

    In this context, I wonder whether things like this link would serve as antibodies to be deployed as soon as he appears. You never know, one day he might choose to engage meaningfully with the problems he creates for himself.


    There’s a finite number of sceptical websites and he paints himself into logical corners so frequently that I am sure there must be other good examples and they could be used as a portmanteau package.

    It also must be said that even after he has apparently disappeared I am sure he still lurks. How else does he know when to appear? So, the funny thing is that even when he vanishes, as in this thread, one can be fairly sure that he is reading what is written about his posts but consciously chooses not to engage with the discussion.

    Hello, Dana, we know you are out there.

  10. I suppose this is a bad time to remind the homeopaths that their idea of water having a “memory” that somehow causes a chemical change inside cells is quantum mechanically impossible?

      • Quantum mechanics tells us that a substance’s properties are due to the quantity and spacial distribution of charges within that substance and the associated quantum energy levels. For water to somehow mimic the properties of that substance would require it to adopt similar charge distributions and energy levels. But by definition, that is not possible since water has its own associated quantum mechanical properties that are unique to it. Quantum mechanics forbids arbitrary energetic arrangements. That is the very heart of the theory.

  11. you all seem pretty sad. you’re all adults sat around mocking something you probably know little, or nothing about. you should all get a life and do something useful instead of insulting a lot of people. don’t you have day jobs or something more productive to do with your time?

    • Please, feel free to share with us your best evidence for the efficacy of any single homeopathic remedy.

      Incontrovertible evidence of a properly documented complete cure of a non-self-limiting illness would even be worth presenting as an impressive anecdote.

      We’re here and ready to receive your best shot.

      Over to you…

  12. Myf, just in case I wasn’t being clear, we see many highly irate homeopaths who pop up here with whingeing little homilies such as yours. They can never come up with the goods when challenged, so I can confidently predict that you will similarly turn out to be an empty vessel.

  13. The 6 million figure comes from a verbal statement made by Professor Kent Woods when questioned about the justification for the licensing regime. He said “10 per cent of the population use these products”.
    best convertible top repair
    Seriously? I don’t agree with you at all

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