Pain management isn’t easy. For many people dealing with pain, the side effects of prescription painkillers can make this option less appealing. There’s also the very real fear of getting "hooked" on the drugs.
One potential alternative is homeopathic medicine, which, while low on scientific evidence, has been in use for centuries. Arnica is one such example, and has been popular for centuries.
Arnica comes from the perennial Arnica montana, a yellow-orangish flower that grows in the mountains of Europe and Siberia. It’s sometimes called the "mountain daisy," because its color and petals look like the daisy. Creams and ointments made from the flower head can be used to treat muscle soreness and aches, bruising, joint pain and swelling, and inflammation.
Bruising and surgery
One of the common uses of arnica is to treat bruises, so it’s popular among people who have recently undergone surgery, especially plastic surgery. Although scientific research is inconclusive on the matter, topical creams and gels are said to help with pain and bruising of the skin. One study on people who underwent a rhytidectomy — a plastic surgery to reduce wrinkles — showed that homeopathic arnica can significantly boost healing.
Some mixed results
Other studies have provided mixed results. One found that topical arnica and ibuprofen had the same effect on people with hand osteoarthritis. Another found that arnica in gel form could help treat osteoarthritis of the knee
However, a study published in The Annals of Pharmacotherapy found that arnica actually increased leg pain in people 24 hours after a routine of eccentric calf (leg muscle located between knee and ankle) exercises.
If you choose to use arnica for pain, never take it orally. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers it unsafe for ingestion. As a result, arnica isn't used very often in internal medicine, as larger doses of undiluted arnica can be fatal. You should only ingest arnica under medical supervision in a heavily diluted pill form.
Doctors don't recommend using arnica on broken skin or for extended periods of time, because this can cause irritation. Additionally, pregnant or breastfeeding women should consult with a doctor before using arnica.
Some people can have allergic reactions to arnica or show hypersensitivity. Stop the use of arnica if this occurs. Individuals with an allergy or hypersensitivity to any plants in the Asteraceae family should avoid using arnica. Other members of this family are daisies, dahlias, dandelions, marigolds, and sunflowers.
As with most homeopathic remedies, the scientific "jury" is still out, as they say, despite studies that show it to be an effective treatment for arthritis and post-surgery bruising.