Arnica – for inside and out!
Arnica – for inside and out!
Arnica is perhaps best known as a remedy for healing bruises and for general aches and pains, but what is this remedy and how does it work when used externally and internally?
Also known as Mountain tobacco, Mountain arnica, Leopard’s bane, and Wolf’s bane, arnica grows in East Asia, Europe, Canada and the northern United States. It’s medicinal use dates back many centuries and today you can find it in homeopathic and herbal formulas for topical and internal use for bruises, sprains, aches and pains. Arnica may also have some antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and be useful for recovery after surgery.
What the science says about arnica?
Along with many centuries of traditional use, arnica’s benefits are supported by a number of scientific studies.
Experiments in the laboratory have found that arnica can reduce inflammation and skin sensitivity to potential allergens in mice and may even kill bacteria linked to periodontal infection. Unfortunately, there’s not yet any evidence of such effects in humans.
There is, however, much more robust evidence supporting the use of arnica for symptoms of osteoarthritis and bruising. Arnica has been found to be safe and effective for topical relief of symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee, for instance.
In another study arnica gel was as effective as ibuprofen gel for relief of osteoarthritis in the hands. Similar results were seen in a randomised, double-blind study involving 204 patients with osteoarthritis in the hands, which looked at differences in pain relief and hand function after 21 days' treatment with either arnica gel or ibuprofen gel. Again, the arnica gel was as effective as ibuprofen at relieving pain and improving hand function, but fewer adverse effects were reported with the arnica treatment.
Some studies have found that using arnica topically can help heal bruising and reduce painful symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Some more recent research also suggests that arnica may be a good topical remedy for bruising after surgery such as rhinoplasty (nose surgery). In another (admittedly very small) study, 9 patients using arnica taken orally had 16.2%, 32.9%, and 20.4% less bruising on Day 2/3, Day 7, and Day 9/10 after surgery, compared to 13 patients taking a placebo.
Arnica has also been successfully used in several clinical trials to relieve postoperative swelling after knee surgery. And one fairly large study even found that oral homeopathic arnica helped reduce pain after tonsillectomy; the dose in this study was Arnica 30c, 2 tablets 6 times in the first post-operative day and then 2 tablets twice a day for the next 7 days.
How does arnica work its magic?
Without getting too technical, arnica contains compounds called sesquiterpene lactones. These are the active constituents in arnica and have anti-inflammatory properties. They also inhibit the production and activity of enzymes in the body that break down cartilage and joint tissue. This is thought to be why arnica is helpful for osteoarthritis and some other inflammatory joint conditions.
Arnica may also have an effect on platelets, the cells that help blood clot. This could be why arnica is helpful for some types of bruising, but it also means it’s best to talk to your doctor before taking arnica if you are already taking warfarin or other blood thinners, or if you have upcoming surgery.
Other reasons to avoid arnica include if you are pregnant or nursing an infant as there may be a risk of serious side effects. And, finally, if you are allergic to sunflowers, marigolds, ragweed, or other members of the Asteracea family, it’s best to avoid arnica.
How to use arnica?
In conclusion, arnica has a wealth of potential benefits including relief from joint pain, sprains, and strains, as well as bruising. If you’re already very active or are getting back into an exercise regimen, it’s a great idea to have arnica on hand for topical relief and if you have an ongoing joint problem, you may find that arnica gel is just as effective as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory gel containing ibuprofen.
As for bruising, if this is an ongoing problem for you, it’s best to get checked by a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying problems. If you’re scheduled for elective surgery, talk to your medical team about using arnica after surgery to help reduce bruising, but avoid taking it in advance unless otherwise advised.