Everyone is bound to experience body aches and pains at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, relieving pain is not easy, especially with all the possible side effects of some over-the-counter pain killers. The good news is that you can use natural alternatives to ease common aches and pains. Arnica is one such example.
Arnica is one of the most popular homeopathic remedies for pain management. It comes in a variety of species, with the most common one being arnica montana (also known as leopard’s bane, mountain tobacco, mountain arnica or wolf’s bane). In addition to its pain-relieving properties, arnica is also believed to help alleviate inflammation, fight infection and boost healing.1
What Is Arnica?
Arnica is a flowering perennial plant that mainly grows in Siberia and Europe, but may also be found in some parts of North America. It belongs to the Compositae family, so it’s closely related to the common daisy and sunflower.2 The arnica plant usually thrives in places that are 3,000 feet above sea level, and reaches a height of 1 to 2 feet. It has round and hairy stems, bright green leaves and yellow-orange blossoms that look similar to daisies.
Dried or fresh arnica flowers and roots have been used for various medicinal applications since the 1500s.3 Swiss mountain guides even chew its leaves to prevent fatigue while climbing. When dried, its leaves were also smoked for their therapeutic effects, hence why they’re called mountain tobacco.4
The primary active ingredient that gives arnica its powerful medicinal properties is sesquiterpene lactone — a chemical compound that’s known for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. It’s also rich in thymol, flavonoids, inulin, carotenoids and tannins.5
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that using pure arnica is generally discouraged by health professionals and is also considered unsafe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since it can be toxic in its pure form and may cause severe health complications.6 I advise you to use only heavily diluted forms of arnica for homeopathic remedy to enjoy its benefits without putting your health at risk.
Different Types of Arnica That You May Use
Arnica supplement is available in tablet and pill forms, which contain very little amounts of arnica extract. It typically doesn’t cause any side effects since it’s highly diluted. However, you should still consult your doctor before taking this oral supplement to ensure that you don’t go past the recommended dosage.
Arnica herbal teas are also available, but before you drink one, make sure that its arnica content is within the safe range first. It’s also not recommended to brew your own tea from fresh arnica, especially if you don’t know how to dilute it.7 This herb comes in topical solutions as well. Some types of arnica that you can use for external application are:
• Arnica gel
• Arnica cream
Be sure not to apply arnica directly on open wounds or broken skin to prevent irritation. I suggest that you do a skin patch test first to see if you’ll have any adverse reaction to the topical form of this herb.
Common Uses of Arnica: Relieves Bruises, Swelling, Pain and More
Different parts of the arnica plant have been used for centuries in medicinal preparations. This powerful herb is said to be helpful for the following applications:8
Easing muscle pain — Arnica is known as a natural pain reliever. In fact, it's one of my recommended holistic remedies for relieving body aches caused by trauma, surgery or inflammation.
It's a safer alternative to over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other pain medicines.9
Reducing swelling — Arnica is best known for its capability to help lessen swelling, especially those that are caused by sprain, fractures or insect bites.10
Promoting healing of bruises and wounds — Arnica helps speed up the healing process of bruises and wounds by prompting the body to produce white blood cells, which cleans up congested blood and disperses trapped fluids from the affected area.11
Reducing diabetes-related vision problems — Some studies suggest that arnica can help improve retinal microcirculation, reducing the risk of eye problems caused by diabetes.12
Protecting against infections — The active compounds of arnica give it the ability to protect the body against various bacterial infections.13
Relieving osteoarthritis — Arnica supplement can help relieve common problems associated with osteoarthritis, such as pain and muscle stiffness.14
Other forms of arnica may also deliver the uses mentioned above. For instance, arnica oil may be used for relieving muscle aches and spasms, while arnica gel may be helpful for healing bruises and alleviating osteoarthritis in the hand or knee.
Other Possible Benefits of Arnica
In addition to the traditional uses of arnica, some studies suggest that this herb may also deliver the following benefits:15
• Help reduce mouth ulcers caused by chemotherapy
• Promote hair growth
• Alleviate acne breakout
• Reduce bleeding
While further studies are still needed to confirm the numerous benefits of arnica, researchers do know that the thymol derivatives and sesquiterpene lactones of this herb are mainly responsible for its medicinal properties, which include:16,17
Because of its therapeutic effects, arnica is commonly used by athletes as well as patients who underwent surgical or dental procedure.
Some Studies Confirm the Anti-inflammatory and Analgesic Benefits of Arnica
Even though arnica has been used as a traditional medicine for centuries, there are still a lot of doubts regarding its efficiency, which is why numerous studies have been conducted on this plant. While some of these studies dispute its benefits, there are still those that confirm its common uses.
A double-blind placebo controlled study conducted in 2003 focused on the effects of arnica in marathon runners. It involved 82 individuals, some of which were given pills of arnica in the morning and evening while others took placebo pills. The results show that the group who took arnica supplement experienced milder muscle soreness after running than the placebo group.18
A recent study conducted in 2016 also confirmed the pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties of this herb in post-surgical settings. This study was published on the American Journal of Therapeutics, and its result shows that arnica can be a valid alternative for NSAIDs for treating post-traumatic and postoperative pain.19
Understanding the Side Effects of Arnica
Even though highly diluted forms of arnica are considered generally safe to use, they may still cause several adverse effects, especially if you’re allergic to its compound called helenalin. Some of the side effects that you may encounter are:20,21
Mucous membrane and gastrointestinal irritation
I do not recommend using the topical forms of this herb for a prolonged period of time, since they may cause skin problems, such as rashes, blisters, eczema and peeling.
It’s also important to note that this herbal remedy is not suitable for children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as those who have broken skin, digestion problems and high blood pressure. Arnica may interact with other medications as well, especially with pain killers, steroids and anticoagulant drugs.22
Talk to Your Physician to Achieve Relief and Healing
Even though arnica is an effective anti-inflammatory and analgesic, you should understand that this herbal supplement may not be able to cure the underlying causes of your pain, which is exactly why I recommend seeking the help of a physician in addition to taking this homeopathic remedy.
Your doctor can help diagnose the possible causes behind body pain or swelling and identify the best way to treat your condition for good. Physicians who are familiar with homeopathic remedies may also help you find the best form of arnica to use.23 Successful pain management may require certain lifestyle and dietary changes as well.
Finding the best approach to break free of painful body problems may take time. But with the help of your physician, along with natural remedies, you’ll eventually be able to achieve relief and healing.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Arnica
Q: Does arnica work?
A: Yes, arnica is proven to be an effective anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving natural remedy. Its efficiency is backed not just by traditional beliefs, but also by modern scientific studies.
Q: What is arnica oil?
A: Arnica oil is derived from the flowers of arnica montana. It's usually used by athletes to relieve muscle pain and swelling. It may also be used in perfumes and hair care products, such as anti-dandruff lotions and hair tonics.
Q: What does arnica do?
A: Arnica contains powerful compounds that can help fight inflammation, alleviate pain and stimulate white cell activity to promote healing.24
Q: What is arnica used for?
A: Arnica is traditionally used for reducing pain and swelling caused by various injuries or medical conditions, such as sprains, fractures, overexertion or arthritis. It may also help treat acne, promote hair growth, heal bruises or wounds and reinforce the body against bacterial infections.
Q: When should you take arnica?
A: Arnica is best used as a natural alternative to prescription pain medicines, which means that you should use it for instances where you would normally take over-the-counter drugs. For example, take it when you're experiencing minor pain, arthritis or leg cramps.
However, for serious injuries and chronic pains, it's best to consult your physician for a proper diagnosis instead of relying on this herbal remedy.25