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Arthritic Foot Feels Much Better After Being Stung by Fire Ants

When we first heard people were getting relief from arthritis or nerve pain after being stung by fire ants we were doubtful. What's going on?

Why would anyone want to be stung by fire ants? The pain can be intense. That’s because these critters are aggressive. First they bite you and then they sting you by injecting a toxin (solenopsin) into your skin. It contains the chemical piperidine that causes much of the mischief. Some liken the feeling to being burned, hence the name fire ants.

These nasty little beasties (Solenopsis invicta) first showed up in Alabama in the 1930s after hitching a ride from South America. Florida has a large fire ant population but fire ants can also be found throughout the southeast and into Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. There are even reports of people being stung by fire ants in parts of California.

When someone is stung by fire ants the pain, swelling and itching can last for hours. Resulting blisters can persist for as long as a week or more. People who are allergic to these stings need immediate emergency treatment as anaphylactic shock can result.

Some People Like the Results of Being Stung by Fire Ants:

Q. I was looking for information about fire ant stings and arthritis because this just happened to me. I live in Florida and two days ago I got about 30 fire ant stings on my foot.

I used baking soda and vinegar on the foot, so the pain and itching wasn’t too bad. My toes became swollen and tight to the point that I couldn’t bend them, but the swelling went away overnight.

In the past, including very recently, I have had incredible pain from arthritis in this foot. Today, my foot feels incredible! I have no pain at all and that is a miracle for me! I just can’t believe the range of motion I have. All of the joints in the foot are so loose and flexible.

I’m 50 and my foot feels like it did when I was in my 20s. As crazy as this may sound, I’m getting ready to go out and put my hands on one of the several fire ant nests in my yard. If the joints in my hands feel as good as my foot does, I will be a very happy man! I am living proof that this does work!

A. We would discourage you from sticking your hand in a fire ant nest on the grounds that bites can become infected. Multiple stings sometimes trigger seizures, heart failure or life-threatening allergic reactions.

Apitherapy for Arthritis:

That said, there is an unusual approach to treating arthritis (and some auto-immune conditions) called apitherapy or bee venom therapy. Controlled bee stings may provide significant pain relief for stiff, sore joints or even pain that lingers after shingles.

We interviewed experts on apitherapy and acupuncture for our radio show earlier this year. You can listen to the one-hour episode of Show 1032: How to Use Products of the Bee Hive for Healing at this link.

People Stung By Fire Ants:

Christina in California offers this account:

“I have been in chronic pain from arthritis for 4 years. I got bitten by a fire ant and all of a sudden my pain was much better. This may be my imagination but I am grateful for any relief from this pain.”

John in Florida shares an interesting “experiment”:

“I am in my 30s and in declining health, I moved to Florida from a state that’s too cold for fire ants.

“I have chronic nerve pain that is never ending and that runs down both legs. I was out walking (it helps me to spasm less) and I got bit for the very first time by a fire ant on my big toe, and it hurt. But ten minutes later the pain and spasm in the leg I was bitten on stopped, but not in the the leg that wasn’t bitten.”

Bill also from Florida also experienced relief:

“I have had severe pain in two fingers on my left hand for several years. I have to agree with all the posts on this website that came before me.

“I got into a fire ant nest in a bale of hay while feeding my horses four days ago. I received about 20 stings before I got them off of me. The next morning the pain in my left hand was gone, and so far four days later I still have no pain in that hand. I really hope there are some serious research studies being conducted somewhere on the pain relief properties in fire ant venom.”

We doubt that researchers will take up this call to action, but it would be wonderful if someone could test this idea scientifically. Until then we will continue to collect anecdotes. You can read more at this link: Fire Ant Bite Banished Hip Pain.

Again, we would caution people NOT to allow themselves to be intentionally stung by fire ants! That could result in a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Home Remedies for Fire Ant Bites:

We have received many suggestions for treating the pain and inflammation of fire ant bites. They include topical application of vinegar, witch hazel, OTC acne medicine (benzoyl peroxide), castor oil, Vicks VapoRub or a cut onion. This link will provide stories about some of these approaches.

Other Ways to Ease Arthritis pain:

If you are interested in less painful and scary treatments for joint pain and arthritis you will find our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies appealing. The remedies we share do not involve being stung by fire ants!

Revised: June 8, 2018

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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