There’s an herb that’s part of the sunflower family that’s called arnica. You’ve likely heard about arnica as you’ve made your way through health magazines and online articles. Arnica is known for its ability to help the body heal from injuries, bruises, and sprains.
The herb is usually pressed into service because of its analgesic properties. It’s one of the best substances out there for soothing pain symptoms. The use of arnica as an analgesic remedy dates as far back as the 1400s. Both Native Americans and Europeans have a history of crushing the leaves and rubbing the herbal extract on wounds, bruises, and sprains.
Arnica is one of those herbs that are strictly used as a topical treatment. Arnica can’t be taken internally, as it can cause serious side effects.
In clinical trials, arnica usually performs well. For example, one such trial looked at the effectiveness of arnica in reducing pain. The researchers also wanted to determine if arnica had any beneficial effects on markers of inflammation and/or an ability to reduce muscle damage. The trial was performed on 20 well-trained men who maintained a high level of personal fitness. The men were asked to perform a downhill running exercise that was intended to induce delayed onset muscle soreness.
Arnica was applied topically to the skin to the quadriceps and gastrocnemius muscles immediately after the downhill running exercise. The researchers reapplied the arnica treatments every four hours for the length of the study. The research team measured the performance of the men during a downhill running exercise, along with taking pain assessments (by ascertaining muscle tenderness). A blood analysis revealed the presence (or lack thereof) of markers for inflammation such as interleukin 6, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and c-reactive protein. All of these tests were completed at four, 24, 48, 72 and 96 hours after the downhill run.
Although the arnica treatments did not seem to beneficially affect any of the performance assessments or reduce inflammation, it did however, significantly reduce pain symptoms amongst the men.
In another trial, researchers reviewed the effectiveness of various herbal medicines in the treatment of osteoarthritis. One study under review included 174 people with hand osteoarthritis. The patients were treated with topical arnica gel and within three weeks had significantly reduced their pain scores. Hand function was also improved after treatment with arnica.
You can find all sorts of similar clinical results when looking through trials involving arnica. Seems like this herb is the way to go if you’re looking for a topical cream that can take the place of pain medication for sore and stiff muscles and tendons.
You can also use arnica to topically treat bruises. It seems the herb helps to break up the blood clotting that leads to excessive and prolonged bruising after an injury.
Pumpa, K.L., et al., “The effects of topical Arnica on performance, pain and muscle damage after intense eccentric exercise,” Eur J Sport Sci. August 16, 2013. [Epub ahead of print]
Cameron, M., et al., “Topical herbal therapies for treating osteoarthritis,” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. May 31, 2013; 5: CD010538.