Using Arnica for Pain Relief

Arnica flower and oil

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Managing pain can be difficult. If you are dealing with pain, you may have heard about arnica, a homeopathic remedy from the perennial herb Arnica montana that has been in use for centuries.

While pure arnica is considered toxic when ingested, creams, gels, and ointments derived from arnica are sometimes used topically for muscle pain and aches, bruising, osteoarthritis, and inflammation.

Homeopathic remedies containing arnica are extremely diluted through a process that results in little or no detectable active ingredient.

The Benefits of Arnica

One of the most common uses of arnica is in the treatment of bruising and pain. An arnica-based gel, cream, ointment, or salve is topically applied to promote healing and soothing of the skin or the homeopathic form is taken orally. Arnica gel is also touted as a means of relieving muscle soreness and sprain-related pain.

Research on arnica's effectiveness is mixed. Several studies have found it to be no more useful than a placebo in relieving pain, swelling, and bruising—and can even sometimes worsen pain—while other research suggests that arnica may be helpful in certain situations.

Post-Surgery Swelling and Bruising

One of the most common uses for arnica is for bruising after surgery. The evidence is inconclusive on whether it can help.

A 2016 review of studies examining the use of oral homeopathic arnica, topical arnica, or oral bromelain in the prevention or treatment of post-procedure bruising or swelling published in Dermatologic Surgery found insufficient data to support the use of either arnica or bromelain.

Similarly, a study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in 2016 examined the use of an arnica cream, a mucopolysaccharide polysulfate cream, or no treatment in 118 people who had undergone rhinoplasty. After evaluating subjects on days 2, 5, 7, and 10, researchers found that people who used either cream had less bruising and less swelling during evaluations than those who had no treatment.


In a research review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2013, scientists analyzed seven previously published clinical trials focusing on topical herbal therapies in people with osteoarthritis. They concluded that "arnica gel probably improves symptoms as effectively as a gel containing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, but with no better (and possibly worse) adverse event profile."

Side Effects and Precautions

Pure arnica should never be taken internally, due to side effects that can include drowsiness, stomach pain, diarrhea, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, coma, or even death.

While arnica can be toxic when ingested, homeopathic arnica products are extremely diluted forms that are generally considered safe. However, some homeopathic forms of arnica, particularly topical products, may contain detectable levels of arnica.

In some cases, topical use of arnica can cause skin irritation, itching, blisters, and other allergy-related problems. Be careful not to use topical arnica on broken or sensitive skin or use it for an extended period of time. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or are about to have surgery, consult your doctor before using arnica.

Arnica products may cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to ragweed and other members of the Asteraceae/Compositae family (such as chrysanthemums, marigolds, sunflowers, and daisies)

It's important to keep in mind that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Where to Find It

Homeopathic arnica, as well as arnica gels, ointments, and creams, can be purchased at some health food stores or drug stores.

A Word From Verywell

As with most homeopathic remedies, the evidence remains limited. If you're still considering using arnica, talk with your healthcare provider first to weigh the pros and cons and discuss whether it's appropriate for you.

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Article Sources

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  1. Ho D, Jagdeo J, Waldorf HA. Is there a role for arnica and bromelain in prevention of post-procedure ecchymosis or edema? A systematic review of the literature. Dermatol Surg. 2016;42(4):445-63. doi:10.1097/DSS.0000000000000701.

  2. Cameron M, Chrubasik S. Topical herbal therapies for treating osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;(5):CD010538. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD010538

  3. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Arnica. Updated March 6, 2018.

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