Does Arnica Help with Pain?

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on October 31, 2017Written by Joe Bowman on September 15, 2014

Pain management isn’t easy. The side effects of prescription painkillers can make this option less appealing for many people. There’s also the very real possibility of getting hooked on the drugs, as underscored by the current opioid crisis. It makes sense to find alternative, nonaddictive ways to manage pain and avoid taking prescription pain medications in the first place.

One potential alternative is homeopathic medicine. While low on scientific evidence, homeopathic medicine has been in use for centuries. Arnica is one such example.

What is arnica?

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 familiar flower. Creams and ointments made from the flower head can be used to address the following ailments:

What the research says

Arnica is commonly used to treat bruises, so it’s popular among people who’ve recently undergone surgery, especially plastic surgery. Although scientific research is inconclusive on the matter, topical creams and gels containing arnica are said to help with pain and bruising of the skin.

A 2006 study on people who underwent a rhytidectomy — a plastic surgery to reduce wrinkles — showed that homeopathic arnica can significantly boost healing. Arnica has proven effective during the healing of several postoperative conditions. These include swelling, bruising, and pain.

Other research has provided mixed results regarding its effectiveness. A study published in Annals of Pharmacotherapy found that arnica increased leg pain in people 24 hours after a routine of calf exercises.

How it’s administered

If you choose to use the herb arnica for pain, never take it orally. It’s meant to be applied to your skin and is typically used as a gel. Arnica isn’t used very often in internal medicine, as larger doses of undiluted arnica can be fatal.

You can dissolve a homeopathic remedy of arnica under your tongue. However, this is only because homeopathic products are highly diluted. The herb itself shouldn’t be put into your mouth.

Precautions and side effects

Doctors don’t recommend using arnica on broken skin or for extended periods of time, because it 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. If this occurs, you should stop using arnica. Individuals who are allergic or hypersensitive to any plants in the Asteraceae family should avoid using arnica. Other members of this family include:

The takeaway

As with most homeopathic remedies, the scientific “jury” is still out, despite studies that show it to be an effective treatment for arthritis and postsurgery bruising. Talk to your doctor if you’re interested in using arnica.

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