Arnica has been used since the 1500s to combat pain and inflammation and recently became more mainstream with the release of new studies. But is it effective, is it safe, and what conditions make it worth using? Read on to learn more.
What is Arnica?
Arnica is a 2ft tall perennial flower with yellow-orange flowers petals similar to daisies and a native to the mountains of Europe, Montana, and Siberia.
Arnica has been used homeopathically since the 1500s for its anti-inflammatory properties on everything from skin creams, ointments, salves, and more to soothe muscle aches, reduce pain & inflammation, and even aid wound healing.
What are the risks of taking Arnica?
Arnica is generally safe when used on the skin for a short time. However, long term usage has been known to provoke skin irritations, such as eczema, peeling, and blisters among others; per the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Arnica should not be used on broken skin such as leg ulcers and, in general, we advise you always speak with your doctor before using orally.
Orally administered Arnica has been known to cause dizziness, tremors, and even heart irregularities, especially in people who are predisposed to these symptoms or have certain medical conditions. Arnica can also irritate mucous membranes in the throat and cause vomiting, so keep that in mind as well.
The actual herb is toxic to the liver and can be fatal in some cases, thus the FDA has classified Arnica as an unsafe herb. Physicians generally advise against using arnica in any form other than in a highly diluted homeopathic form, and we do not recommend taking Arnica by mouth unless under close supervision of a physician.
When is Arnica safe to use?
The main uses of Arnica include relief caused by bruising, swelling, pain, arthritis, and injury.
At this time, due to potential safety issues with oral arnica as well as lack of stringent manufacturing standards, only topical formulations; applied only to non-broken skin, can even remotely be recommended.
That said, early studies of topical homeopathic arnica gels and ointments used for arthritis symptoms on the hands and knees (including pain and swelling) have shown positive results.
Researchers in one study, looked at 26 men and 53 women with mild to moderate osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee, and at weeks 3 and 6, noted significant improvement in pain, stiffness, and function sub-scales.  No side effects were noted and similar results were found in other studies as well.[2, 3]
One study published in the Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery also noted less bruising in face-lift patients treated with Arnica. However, other research done with surgical patients yielded mixed results, although leaning to the side of positive overall.
Arnica usage in various situations usually results in insufficient evidence or mixed outcomes.
Several studies showed that taking homeopathic arnica by mouth may slightly reduce pain after surgery.
Similar results were found in another study of homeopathic arnica being used together with arnica ointment/gel for 2 weeks after a surgery. However, here not all effects were positive, and other studies showed taking homeopathic arnica for 5 days did not reduce pain after surgery.
Most research results using homeopathic arnica by mouth or applying arnica to the skin showed this therapy did not reduce bruising to any significant effect. However, one study on women post face-lift surgery showed Arnica might reduce bruising under the skin.
Current research shows mixed results regarding effects of arnica on muscle pain. Some studies show that taking homeopathic arnica orally does not prevent muscle soreness.
One such study applied arnica ointment 3x/day every 24 hours after performing calf raises, and showed no reduction in muscle pain.
However, another study that applying an arnica gel on the leg muscles immediately after running and then every 4 hours while awake for 5 days; showed some reduction in muscle pain and soreness at day 3 of the study.
Conclusions and Advice
The strongest positive Arnica research has been in regards to skin application, most often involving osteoarthritis, and swelling or bruising after surgery or injury.
We cautiously suggest you give Arnica a try for one of these uses, but recommend that you stay away from any oral formulations.
With such mixed results, it’s unclear whether oral arnica is effective and safe, particularly given that there aren’t great manufacturing standards for this homeopathic product and many sellers try to capitalize on selling the cheapest made products at the moderately higher prices of their competitors.
The image to the left will take you to a recommended Arnica cream on Amazon, if you so desire to purchase a trusted brand and manufacturer.
As always, make sure you know the product, check supplement manufacturing standards and always discuss with your doctor prior to any major surgery or anticipated trauma (such as pregnancy or C-section).
Whatever you ultimately decide is a discussion between you and your physician. We hope this has been insightful and has provided you some background on Arnica and its uses. More research is still needed, but for now the results are mixed at best.
At HealFast, we can only provide you the facts and recommend what we truly know works. Arnica creams seems to have more positive feedback, but please consult your physician before attempting any orally applied or consumable applications.
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(1) Knuesel O1, Weber M, Suter A. “Arnica montana gel in osteoarthritis of the knee: an open, multicenter clinical trial.” Adv Ther. 2002 Sep-Oct;19(5):209-18.
(2) R. Widrig, A. Suter, R. Saller & J. Melzer. “Choosing between NSAID and arnica for topical treatment of hand osteoarthritis in a randomised, double-blind study”. Rheumatology International 27 (6): 585-91, 2007.
(3) Otto Knuesel, Michel Weber and Andy Suter. “Arnica montana gel in osteoarthritis of the knee: An open, multicenter clinical trial” Advances in Therapy Volume 19, Number 5, 209-218, DOI: 10.1007/BF02850361, 2002.
(4) Seeley BM, Denton AB, Ahn MS, Maas CS. “Effect of homeopathic Arnica montana on bruising in face-lifts: results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery Jan-Feb; 8(1):54-9, 2006.
General Disclaimer: All information here is for educational purposes only and is not meant to cure, heal, diagnose nor treat. This information must not be used as a replacement for medical advice, nor can the writer take any responsibility for anyone using the information instead of consulting a healthcare professional. All serious disease needs a physician.