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What is Arnica and How Does It Relieve Pain?

Arnica is a natural pain-relieving substance commonly found in a variety of skincare products, healing balms, and natural pain relief products – but what is arnica? Arnica is a plant-based, natural healing substance belonging to the perennial herbs genus, and the sunflower family. Arnica has many healing properties. Though not suitable for oral ingestion, arnica has been used for decades as an excellent topical treatment for inflammation and discomfort. 

This means you can rub a cream onto your skin that is infused with arnica, for example, and get the healing effects of arnica. You can purchase arnica-infused gels and creams, or find arnica mixed into existing products designed to help with bruising and pain. Let’s take a closer look at this unique flower, and what it can do:

What is Arnica?

Otherwise known as Mountain tobacco, Leopard’s bane, and wolf’s bane, Arnica comes in a variety of strains. The most commonly used type of Arnica is “Arnica Montana”, which contains an anti-inflammatory compound, capable of relieving pain, discomfort, aches, and bruising.

The Arnica plant is indigenous to various sub-alpine regions of Western North America, but it can also be found around North America, Asia, and Europe. The arnica flower is best defined by its long, downy leaves, and bright yellow/orange blossoms.  

Notably, the compound believed to deliver the beneficial anti-inflammatory effects of arnica when applied topically (Helenalin) must be prepared correctly. This compound can also be an irritant when not properly diluted. That’s why arnica extract is commonly mixed with various other “carrier” products, or you’ll notice that arnica is listed as one of many ingredients in a natural pain relief product.

The flower of the A. Montana plant has been used around the world for hundreds of years. Today, it’s common to find arnica lotions and topical treatments in countless pharmacies and stores. Typically, arnica is available as an “over-the-counter product”, but it may also be recommended by doctors and healthcare professionals.

What is Arnica Used For?

Arnica is commonly used as part of alternative or holistic medicine for the relief of bruising, myalgia, and arthralgia (joint pain).

Studies into the efficacy of Arnica are ongoing. One report in 2006 looked at the effect of arnica on facial bruising and found the substance can effectively reduce the severity of a bruise. In 2010, a similar study also found arnica could help with minimizing bruising in a double-blind test.

Many homeopathic drug manufacturers recommend Arnica for:

1.   Osteoarthritis

Arthritic and joint-based pain is a common focal point for advocates of arnica gel and arnica cream. Otherwise known as “wear and tear” arthritis, Osteoarthritis is usually managed with NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Unfortunately, these medications can have negative side effects when used for long periods of time. Extensive NSAID use can even cause stomach ulcers.

Proponents of arnica believe the anti-inflammatory properties of arnica as a topical remedy offer a safe alternative to typical NSAIDs. Research in one study during 2007 even found a 64% response rate with arnica, compared to a 59% response rate for ibuprofen.  

Though further investigation is necessary to confirm the benefits of arnica over other pain relievers, current research indicates a positive response for many patients, without the threat of negative side effects.

2.   Post-surgical bruising and pain

Many users of arnica find it can help with reducing swelling and bruising in a range of circumstances. You might apply arnica after falling over to help reduce the presence of a bruise on your arm or face.

In 2016, researchers looked at the effects of using arnica after surgery, and found it to be a safe, and effective way to reduce swelling, pain, and bruising for patients. This could mean that arnica may be useful in improving the recovery time of patients following surgery, by helping their bodies to bounce back faster. Unfortunately, research into this area is still limited.

Most doctors would often recommend using a combination of natural remedies such as arnica, with approved NSAIDs and pain management medications.

3.   Muscle pain

Arnica could also be useful for the management of various forms of muscle pain. Similar to other natural substances like menthol, arnica could effectively soak into the deeper layers of the tissue when applied topically to the skin, to reduce pain and inflammation.

Currently, there are very few studies into the benefits of arnica for muscle pain, but some initial studies indicate there could be potential for natural homeopathic remedies in the management of muscle pain.

Fortunately, experimenting with the benefits of arnica is safe, because of a lack of interactions with other medications. Although the consumption of arnica may cause interactions with blood-thinning medications, this isn’t the case for creams. When applied topically to the skin, there don’t appear to be any obvious interactions with traditional therapies.

Are There Any Other Health Benefits of Arnica?

The most common reason to use arnica creams and gel is for pain management. Most studies on arnica indicate that it may be effective at helping to support tissue repair and minimize discomfort. Some researchers believe arnica can even interact with the genes in the body responsible for repairing human cells.

However, there may be other health benefits to using this natural substance. While research into the anti-inflammatory benefits is ongoing, other researchers are beginning to consider arnica’s abilities as an antifungal and antibacterial substance.

How To Use Arnica

Research indicates that topical use of arnica can help with the reduction of pain, inflammation, and bruising. However, it’s important to be cautious when consuming arnica orally, as it is not approved for oral consumption by the FDA. If you plan on taking arnica orally, it’s worth speaking to your doctor and making sure you’re only using a diluted version of the arnica plant.

It’s safest to use arnica topically, in the form of a cream, for example. Try the Pain Master Full Spectrum CBD Cream, as it contains many natural pain-relieving substances, including arnica. 

Don’t use arnica if you’re on a blood thinning medication, and do a patch test on your skin with an arnica-infused cream before applying it to a large area of your body.

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