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 carries serious side effects if dosed orally and is reserved for topical use.

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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 following precautions should be taken with its 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 healthcare provider, including supplements and herbs.

There are no known interactions with arnica. Still, it is important to discuss arnica with your healthcare provider and be vigilant about monitoring for side effects.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where can you buy arnica gel?

    Arnica gel is sold in many drug stores, pharmacies, large retailers, and online storefronts. If you plan to use arnica for arthritis or another reason, it may be wise to speak to your healthcare provider before use.

  • Are there arnica pills?

    There are arnica pills. However, when it is consumed in large amounts, arnica is poisonous; unless the solution is extremely diluted, oral usage can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. People who are pregnant or breast feeding should never take arnica by mouth. Before using arnica pills, consider speaking to your healthcare provider about other solutions.

  • Can arnica be used for sunburn?

    Arnica isn't considered the first choice for sunburn treatment. Instead, try taking a cool bath or shower for pain relief. When you finish bathing, gently dry your skin and leave a little bit of water on the burn. Afterward, use a moisturizer on the affected skin to trap moisture and prevent dryness. Be sure to protect the sunburn by keeping it covered while outside and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. If the burn remains red and irritated, consider using aspirin or ibuprofen, as long as it is safe for you to do so (for example, people who are breastfeeding or pregnant shouldn't take these drugs).

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Arnica.

  2. Widrig R, Suter A, Saller R, Melzer J. Choosing between NSAID and arnica for topical treatment of hand osteoarthritis in a randomised, double-blind study. Rheumatol Int. 2007;27(6):585-91. doi:10.1007/s00296-007-0304-y

  3. Knuesel O, Weber M, Suter A. Arnica montana gel in osteoarthritis of the knee: an open, multicenter clinical trial. Adv Ther. 2002;19(5):209-18. doi:10.1007/bf02850361

  4. MedlinePlus. Arnica.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). How to Treat Sunburn.

Additional Reading
  • Arthritis Foundation. Nine Supplements to Avoid.

  • University of Maryland Medical Center. Arnica. Overview.

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer covering arthritis and chronic illness, who herself has been diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.