Last week we spent some time looking at the topical safety issues with arnica. This week we will look a bit more at how to use arnica topically.
Traditionally arnica was used topically for insect bites, cuts, bruises, and sores. It stimulates skin to absorb nutrients as well as more of itself. The herbalist Ellingwood recommends arnica to be extracted in milk for these uses including for muscular pain.
While this is all well and good, we can read what these herbalists were using arnica for but what modern research is being done in these areas?
In modern studies, arnica has been found to be antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic. All of these are topical uses with a full strength product and would suggest that using arnica for insect bites, cuts, and sores would be a great idea.
One study found arnica to be just as effective as NSAIDs. There were no differences found in osteoarthritis of the hand between ibuprofen and arnica in hand pain and function. In this study, arnica was so effective that the authors had to dismiss their null hypothesis that arnica was inferior to ibuprofen (Widrig 2007, Ross 2008).
Arnica fresh plant gel was found to be effective for mild to moderate osteoarthritis of the knee in pain, stiffness, and function. 87% of people in the study rated it as ‘good’ and 76% would use it again. This study only had one mild allergic reaction of the 79 people in the study suggesting it may be a safer alternative to NSAIDs, which have a high incidence of adverse effects. The true strength of this product is unknown. This study suggests that the real allergic potential of this herb may not be as high as suspected (Knuesel 2002).
Even with these wonderful uses of arnica for joint pain studies showed that, though there was no observable improvement in bruising, there was improvement of patient’s experience of the bruised site with arnica gel. Well that is odd. My thoughts on this is that rather than arnica supporting the capillary health associated with bruising it reduces the inflammation, improving patient experience of the bruise with no visual change. However, a 20% arnica gel was found to be more effective than petroleum and a 1% vitamin K cream in reducing bruising. Previous studies showed that 8% arnica was not effective at reducing bruising (Leu 2010) suggesting more research into the strength of arnica needs to be done for use with bruising.
I hope you will continue to read our entries on arnica as we continue next week to look more into the safety around using arnica internally. Please visit our website and consider signing up to receive our FREE monthly wellness newsletters for more information on The Dancing Herbalist. For more FREE herbal learning, consider our Online Herbal Studies Program. We are currently developing this program and would love a donation to be able to have high quality videos available for your use.