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What is arnica and what is it used for?

Woman rubbing cream into elbow joint
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If you prefer to treat minor aches, pains and ailments with herbal remedies rather than over-the-counter pharmacy treatments, you may be interested in using arnica. Read on to learn more about this traditional herbal remedy, and how it works.

What is arnica?

Arnica, or arnica montana, is a wild plant with yellow flowers. It’s also known as leopards-bane, wolfsbane, sneezewort and mountain tobacco, and it’s native to mountainous areas of Siberia and central Europe – other types of arnica are native to North America.

Arnica flowers have a long history within folk medicine, and have traditionally been used to treat wounds, sprains, bruises, back pains and fevers – amongst other things. Today, arnica is used as a herbal remedy, and is widely available within health food shops and pharmacies. It’s also commonly used within homeopathic medicine.

What is arnica used for?

Arnica is most often used as a topical treatment for bruising, sprains and muscle pain. It comes as an ointment or liquid that is designed to be rubbed into the affected area of skin several times a day.

The NHS doesn’t have direct guidance about using arnica, or how effective it is, but the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC) – a branch of the European Medicines Agency – has said the following:

“Conclusions on the use of these arnica flower medicines for the relief of bruises, sprains and localised muscle pain are based on their ‘traditional use’. This means that, although there is insufficient evidence from clinical trials, the effectiveness of these herbal medicines is plausible and there is evidence that they have been used safely in this way for at least 30 years."

Arnica is also used as a homeopathic treatment in tablet form to treat symptoms like muscle pain. However, the NHS advises that there is insufficient evidence to suggest homeopathy is effective.

What is arnica used to “soothe”?

According to traditional usage, arnica is said to soothe a variety of aches and pains including:

Benefits of arnica

As we’ve seen, arnica is said to help soothe aches and pains when applied to the skin of affected areas. Depending on the type of arnica product used, it will need to be rubbed in to the skin up to four times daily for any benefit to be felt.

Keeping on top of dosage

Arnica can be toxic in large amounts, and it can cause skin irritation. Products containing arnica will contain controlled amounts which are safe to apply to your skin or to ingest as a tablet or oral spray. This is why it’s always best to use a pre-prepared arnica product from a pharmacy or health food shop, rather than trying to prepare your own.

It’s important to use arnica in the recommended way, and not to double up on doses if you don’t feel any benefit. With skin products used for bruising or sprains, it’s recommended that you speak to a doctor after three to four days if your symptoms persist.

When buying arnica, or any other herbal remedy, look for the traditional herbal registrations (THR) marking on the packet, as this means it complies with certain safety standards.

Who shouldn’t use arnica treatments?

The HMPC advises that arnica shouldn’t be used by children under 12, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It should also be avoided by anyone with an allergy to plants in the Asteraceae family – this includes daisies, chrysanthemums, dandelions and sunflowers.

Side effects of using arnica

Because arnica isn’t an established medical treatment recommended or prescribed by the NHS, its side effects aren’t catalogued and studied in the same way as prescription medications. However, we do know that arnica can cause an allergic skin reaction called contact dermatitis in some people.

If you notice redness, itching or any kind of skin reaction after applying an arnica product, stop use immediately and contact your GP.

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References

www.encyclopedia.com/plants-and-animals/plants/plants/arnica
www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/arnica-montana
www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/herbal-monograph/draft-community-herbal-monograph-arnica-montana-l-flos_en.pdf
www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-721/arnica
www.britannica.com/topic/list-of-plants-in-the-family-Asteraceae-2040400