The Medicinal Uses And Benefits Of Arnica

By:    Published: October 8, 2011

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Arnica has been used for centuries to treat bruises, sprains, strains, swelling, inflammation and pain. This herb is somewhat controversial because it's medical value is entirely subjective where it is either one of the most powerful herbal curatives available, or it's a complete joke and any healing effects are chocked up to the placebo effect.

What is It?

Arnica is a genus of roughly 30 different perennial plants belonging to the sunflower family. There are two species that are common in North America: Arnica Circumboreal and Arnica Montana. The type most used in herbal remedies is Arnica Montana.

Arnica plants have yellow or orange flowers that are 2.5-to-3 inches across and have 10-to-15 petals. They resemble daisies or sunflowers, which isn't surprising since they are a member of the same family. When the leaves of the plant are rubbed or bruised, they have a strong pine or sage smell. The flower has a slight aroma as well.

The root of the Arnica plant contains a derivative of a substance called thymol. Thymol has been clinically shown to be an effective vasodilator, as well as being anti-bacterial and fungicidal. This is the substance that gives the leaves and stalks its strong odor.

What makes thymol unique is that unlike the anti-biotic and anti-fungal medications used in mainstream medicine, thymol does not contribute to anti-bacterial and anti-fungal resistant mutations of bacteria. So while penicillin will eventually cease to be effective on strep infection, thymol, and the botanicals that contain it, will continue to be effective.

Because if this Arnica ointments can be applied to open wounds to aid in healing as well as reducing pain and inflammation.

Key points to remember:

  • Both the flower and the root of the plant are used.
  • Arnica Montana is the most common form used medicinally.
  • Arnica does not create anti-bacterial resistant mutations in bacteria.

Uses

Arnica is most often used to treat injuries, but this is not all that it can do. Arnica is used to treat bruising, sore muscles, sprains, strains, inflammation and pain. However, it has also been shown to be an effective, post-stroke treatment as well as an effective treatment for concussions.

Arnica can be applied topically to nearly any injury. When applied to bruising, sore muscles and the like Arnica is an effective treatment for pain and swelling according to a Swiss study that examined the effectiveness of Arnica for treating pain and swelling in patients with osteoarthritis. The study showed that 76 percent of the patients in the study reported favorable results and would use it again.

Arnica is used both internally and topically, though taking large doses of Arnica internally is not recommended. Typically Arnica is used in a cream or gel and it is great for use on injuries or sore muscles. For more generalized pain, or for pain from surgeries in which it isn't possible to apply Arnica topically, small dissolving tablets are available.

Points to remember:

  • Topically applied Arnica has been shown to be effective in treating pain and swelling
  • Arnica in tablet form has been shown to reduce pain after surgery.

Research

There has been a large amount of research done to determine the effectiveness of Arnica on injuries and other ailments. To date, that research has been inconclusive. Just as soon as one study finds Arnica ineffective, another finds that it is just as effective as allopathic treatments. Here are some of the more favorable studies, though it is clear that more in-depth research needs to be done.

  • One study from Queen Victoria Hospital in West Sussex, England found that after carpal tunnel release surgery the group that was treated with Arnica experienced less pain than the control group.
  • A study from the Charité University Medical Center in Berlin, Germany found that when given internally patients experienced less postoperative pain than those given a placebo.
  • A study out of Northwestern University in Chicago found that an Arnica ointment with a 20 percent concentration was effective in reducing bruising.

Precautions

There are some precautions to keep in mind when using Arnica both internally and topically. When Arnica is applied topically in a strong concentration over an extended period of time it can induce symptoms of dermatitis such as irritation, blistering, and peeling. If taken internally, the concentration needs to be monitored carefully. Concentrations that are too high can result in nausea, vomiting, dizziness, heart irregularities and even death.

While the research on the effectiveness of Arnica is inconclusive, the potential benefits of this plant are cannot be overlooked. Ultimately it is up to each individual person to decide if it is right for them.

As with all medicines, a qualified physician, homeopath or naturopath should be consulted prior to beginning treatment.

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