What Arthritis Patients Should Know About Arnica

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Natural remedies appeal to some arthritis patients who shy away from traditional treatment for one reason or another. Some patients look to natural options as a complementary treatment, to be used along with whatever else they have been prescribed. Arnica is one of the natural treatment options. Let's look more closely at arnica, what it claims to do, and whether there are any warnings or precautions associated with it.

What Is Arnica?

Arnica, short for Arnica montana, is a plant which produces yellow-orange daisy-like flowers in the mountainous areas of Europe and North America. It is a perennial plant that grows to be 1-2 feet tall. Since the 1500s, the fresh or dried flowers of the arnica plant have been used for medicinal purposes.

How Is Arnica Administered?

Arnica can be applied to the skin as a cream, ointment, liniment, salve, or tincture. It can be made into compresses or poultices. It is usually used topically because serious side effects can result from oral administration of arnica. Oral homeopathic remedies that contain arnica do exist, but they are heavily diluted to eliminate potential harm.

What Is Arnica Used For?

Arnica is used for bruises, sprains, muscle soreness, and muscle spasms often associated with sports activity. Arnica is also used to treat muscular aches, joint pain, and arthritis. It is believed that the arnica plant has anti-inflammatory properties. Arnica has also been used for wound healing, superficial phlebitis, inflammation caused by insect bites, and swelling caused by broken bones.

Warnings and Precautions

There are serious side effects that can occur with oral administration of arnica. It is not advised that you take arnica by mouth without medical supervision. It can cause dizziness, tremors, and heart abnormalities when taken by mouth. Arnica can also irritate the mucous membranes and cause vomiting. It can be fatal in large doses.

Generally, topical administration of arnica is considered safe but there are warnings that accompany even topical use. Arnica should never be applied to broken skin. People who are allergic or hypersensitive to arnica should obviously avoid it. If used for a long period of time, arnica can cause skin irritation, eczema, peeling of the skin, or blisters.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid the use of arnica. Always discuss what you are using or taking with your doctor, including supplements and herbs.

There are no known interactions with arnica and other medications which may be prescribed for you when used topically or in a homeopathic remedy. Still, it is important to discuss arnica with your doctor and be vigilant for side effects.

Study Results

A randomized study involving 204 people with hand osteoarthritis was published in Rheumatology International in 2007. It was found that daily arnica gel was as effective as daily ibuprofen gel, although neither treatment was compared to placebo. There also were minimal side effects with arnica.

In 2002, an open-label, non-placebo controlled study was published in Advances in Therapy which involved 79 people with ​knee osteoarthritis. Study participants applied arnica gel twice daily for 3 to 6 weeks. One person had an allergic reaction but the gel was well-tolerated by most patients. Arnica gel was found to reduce pain and stiffness and improve function.

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Article Sources
  • Choosing between NSAID and arnica for topical treatment of hand osteoarthritis in a randomized, double-blind study. Widrig, R. Rheumatol Int. 2007 Apr;27(6):585-91. Epub 2007 Feb 22.
  • Arnica montana gel in osteoarthritis of the knee: an open, multicenter clinical trial. Knuesel O. Advances in Therapy 2002 Sep-Oct;19(5):209-18.
  • Arnica. Overview. University of Maryland Medical Center. Last updated 5/7/2013.