Arnica As a Natural Treatment for Arthritis

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When working to manage your arthritis, you may consider natural remedies either as an alternative to traditional treatments or as a complement to them. Arnica is one that has gotten a lot of arthritis patients' attention because of its purported anti-inflammatory properties. While natural, arnica does carry some notable side effects that are important to be aware of before using it.

What Is Arnica?

Arnica, short for Arnica montana, is a perennial plant found in the mountainous areas of Europe and North America that produces yellow-orange daisy-like flowers. Since the 1500s, the fresh or dried flowers of the arnica plant have been used for medicinal purposes.

Possible Benefits

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.

Research on Use for Arthritis

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 three to six 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.


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.

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, as it can cause dizziness, tremors, and heart abnormalities. Arnica can also irritate the mucous membranes and cause vomiting. It can be fatal in large doses.

The Arthritis Foundation does not recommend the use of arnica. They note that it can be toxic if it gets inside the body and taken orally, it can be poisonous. However, applied topically, it may be safe.

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. Still, it is important to discuss arnica with your doctor and be vigilant about monitoring for side effects.

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