Pain management isn’t always easy. I constantly visit with patients experiencing muscle pain, stiffness, or swelling from injuries and bruising. Some of them are surprised when my recommendations for treatment include homeopathic medicines containing an ingredient called Arnica. But while Arnica is new to most of my patients, it actually has been around for decades in U.S. health food stores and for two centuries in Europe. Here’s everything you need to know about it. Please be aware that products labeled as homeopathic and currently marketed in the U.S. have not been reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and effectiveness to diagnose, treat, cure, prevent or mitigate any diseases or conditions.
What Is Arnica?
The active ingredient in Arnica-based products is Arnica montana, which is Latin for a type of “mountain daisy.” This perennial plant grows 1 to 2 feet tall, and has bright, yellow daisy-like flowers that appear in July and August. It is native to the mountainous regions of northern and central Europe and southern Russia but is also sparsely found in the northwestern United States. Other common names for Arnica plants are Leopard’s Bane, Mountain Tobacco, and Wolf’s Bane. The homeopathic remedy is made from the whole flowering plant.
What Is Arnica Used For?
Arnica is traditionally used* to temporarily relieve muscle pain and stiffness caused by minor injuries, overexertion like carrying heavy bags, yard work, or home improvement projects, or falls. It’s a favorite of my patients who are active seniors. They say it works well for stiffness related to their arthritis, or from sitting too long at a computer or in a car or plane when traveling.
Arnica also may help with reducing swelling and discoloration from bruises. I tell my patients to apply a topical form of Arnica, like a gel or cream, soon after an impact, whether its bumping into something around the home, office, or on a sports field. I know others who say it helped them avoid bruises after undergoing cosmetic procedures.
How to Use Arnica
The vast majority of Arnica homeopathic products are available as over-the-counter drugs in both topical and oral forms:
- Topical Products Containing Arnica
For external use, Arnica gels, creams, or other homeopathic topical forms are ideal for spot treatment of smaller areas. Avoid applying an Arnica topical product on broken or damaged skin. Topical applications of Arnica can irritate the skin or cause allergic effects. The risk of this increases with the concentration of Arnica in topical products.
- Oral Products Containing Arnica
For internal use, Arnica montana is mostly available as homeopathic pellets or tablets that melt under the tongue without water. These oral forms should be used for larger areas of pain. They are more commonly found in health food stores.
Is Arnica Safe to Take?
Before taking a homeopathic product containing Arnica, or any medicine for that matter, it’s important to always read and follow the Drug Facts label. For homeopathic products specifically, make sure to review the dilution levels of the active ingredients found on the label. Dilution levels are indicated on homeopathic products by either a “C” or “X” followed by a number — they are located next to each listed active ingredient.
Homeopathic medicines with dilution levels above 4C or 8X have none of the toxicity of the raw plant. The risk of side effects is low and there is no known interaction with conventional medications or herbal remedies, allowing these products to complement other treatments. It’s also important to point out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulated homeopathic products since 1938. FDA inspects facilities that manufacture homeopathic products for compliance to drug Good Manufacturing Practices, and also oversees product labeling. Homeopathic drug labels are required to be submitted to DailyMed, the official provider of FDA label information.
As an added assurance, consumers and patients should look for products with the acronym “HPUS” after the active ingredient. This shows that the raw ingredient and its manufacturing process comply with the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States. The HPUS defines the production and usage standards recognized by all reputable manufacturers and the federal government.
*Claims based on traditional homeopathic practice, not accepted medical evidence. Not FDA evaluated.