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Arnica: Is it All It’s Hyped up to Be?

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 50 million adults live with chronic pain from conditions like intractable back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, autoimmune conditions, and more. Aside from popping over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatories that may have unwelcome side effects from extended use, or using prescription opioid pain relievers, there’s really not much that Western medicine can do to relieve chronic pain. People who live with chronic pain have become more willing to seek out alternative therapies that might carry less risk than OTC and prescription painkillers.  

Adjunct therapies like acupuncture, medical marijuana (where legal), CBD oil, and chiropractic care have risen in popularity in recent years as an alternative to conventional pain therapies, but people are also turning more to natural supplements and herbal remedies like arnica, which is available in a variety of preparations such as homeopathic remedies, arnica tea, and oil, than any time in recent memory. Let’s take a closer look at the uses, preparations, and side effects associated with this herbal remedy.  

Arnica Uses

Arnica, a European flowering perennial plant called Arnica montana, is one of the most popular and accessible herbal, pain remedies and has hundreds of years of anecdotal evidence backing up its efficacy in mitigating pain. The unique combination of compounds — sesquiterpene lactones, which are known for their potent anti-inflammatory effects, thymol, flavonoids, inulin, tannins, and carotenoids — make this herb useful in alleviating not only pain, but also reducing swelling, promoting bruise and wound healing, and protecting against infection.

Although more research is needed, anecdotal evidence also points to the arnica’s anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving efficacy in other areas, including:

  • Muscle fatigue
  • Reducing acne 
  • Improving dermatitis and other dermatologic conditions
  • Decreasing discomfort associated with insect bites
  • Assisting in the healing of burns 
  • Lowering fever

Arnica Preparations

Typically, arnica is used in pain-relieving homeopathic remedies, and the concentration of the botanical is greatly diluted. You’re most likely to find homeopathic arnica in the form of creams, gels, or oils for topical use, and it’s available online or at most health food stores. However, avoid applying arnica to open wounds.

Although, you may encounter the arnica herb in other formulations as well, such as tablets, capsules, tinctures, and teas, you should exercise extreme caution with oral doses that aren’t considered homeopathic. The oral consumption of arnica at high levels may pose some serious health risks, so never put the raw or whole herb in your mouth.  

A word of caution about arnica tea: Although you’ll see wellness bloggers and enthusiasts singing its praises for everything from weight loss to post-operative swelling, you could be consuming unsafe amounts of the plant. As for whether or not arnica tea is good for you? It’s better to skip it and stick to homeopathic formulas that are considered safe. 

As is the case with all new supplements, consult with your doctor before taking arnica.      

How To Take Arnica

Again, arnica should always be used in a heavily diluted form and should be taken orally according to product instructions with extreme caution as improper dilution can cause liver damage. Topical preparations such as gels and creams are generally safe but may cause topical dermatitis or rashes if used to excess.

To improve the symptoms of muscle pain, bruising, and swelling, apply arnica gel, cream, or oil to the affected area. Do not apply directly to wounds or broken skin. Apply product to a small area of skin before treatment to watch for adverse reactions. 

Side Effects

Though topical products and heavily diluted commercially available homeopathic preparations are generally considered safe, there is still the risk of side effects with arnica use, such as:

  • Heart irregularities
  • Dizziness
  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney disorder 
  • Mucous membrane irritation 
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort 

If you’re allergic to plants belonging to the Asteraceae family of flowering plants, you should avoid using arnica. Other plants in this classification include sunflowers, daisies, dandelions, marigolds, and dahlias.  

Additionally, those who are pregnant, lactating, or taking blood thinning medications should not use arnica. Before adding arnica to your supplement regimen, consult with your healthcare provider to discuss contraindications and ensure safe usage. 

Ultimately, arnica shows promise for the reduction of  pain, inflammation, and bruising, but it still remains to be seen as to whether or not its effectiveness is better than other anti-inflammatory herbs or therapeutic modalities. 


Kristi Pahr is a freelance health and wellness writer and mother of two who spends most of her time caring for people other than herself. She is frequently exhausted and compensates with an intense caffeine addiction. Her work has appeared in Good HousekeepingReal SimpleMen’s Health, and many others.   

 

 

References:

Arnica. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center website. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/arnica

Boehnke KF,  Gangopadhyay S, Clauw DJ, Haffajee RL. Qualifying Conditions Of Medical Cannabis License Holders In The United States. Health Affairs. 2019 February; 38(2): 295–302. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2018.05266

Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults – United States, 2016. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6736a2.ht 

Vickers AJ, Vertosick EA, Lewith G, et al. Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Update of an Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis. The Journal of Pain, 2018 May; 19(5):  455–474. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2017.11.005

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One thought on “Arnica: Is it All It’s Hyped up to Be?”

  1. Carolina1 says:

    One thing I can tell you about Arnica cream is that it fades bruises quickly. My elderly mom had bruises all over her arms and it would fade them in about three days. Also used homeopathic pills which had diluted arnica and it does seem to help with arthritis and muscle pain. Good stuff.

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