Nutrition  

Arnica – Joint Soothing Plant

Written by M. Macdonald

Updated May 19, 2023

As we age, it’s not uncommon to experience joint pain and stiffness. In fact, according to the Arthritis Foundation, almost half of adults over 65 have arthritis.

If you’re experiencing joint pain, you might be looking for ways to alleviate it without turning to prescription painkillers or invasive procedures. One natural solution you might consider and have probably heard of is arnica.

Whether in be in oil form, a cream, an ointment or a liniment, arnica is known to have been used for medicinal purposes since the 1500s. The Arnica montana plant, a member of the daisy family, contains helenalin, which has fantastic anti-inflammatory properties, making arnica oil a great addition to any natural first aid kit, as it comes in handy for bruises, aches, sprains, and can even soothe itchy insect bites.

The oil of the Arnica montana plant can be extracted using several methods, including steam distillation, solvent extraction, and cold pressing, but cold pressing is the most common method, as it produces the purest oil. Quality control is essential in the extraction process to ensure that the oil is free of impurities and contaminants, and it should always be purchased from a reputable source.

What Arnica is Good For:

– Helps bruises heal faster:
Bruising is caused by the rupturing of blood vessels close to the surface of the skin, resulting in a patch of discolouration. By applying arnica to the affected area (not on any broken skin though) 2 or 3 times a day, you will notice the bruise heal much faster than it usually would.

A study from Northwestern University’s Department of Dermatology found that, when topically applied to bruises, arnica was more effective at reducing them than vitamin K formulations.

– Relieves sprains, muscle pain and inflammation:
Arnica has long been a go-to natural remedy for athletes to help with muscle damage and enhance athletic performance. It’s commonly used for hematomas, sprains, and joint pains of all kinds, including rheumatoid arthritis. The compound helenalin is key for these anti-inflammatory effects, but also arnica contains thymol, which has a dilating effect on blood vessels. This means more blood is brought to the affected area, helping it heal by bringing essential anti-inflammatory compounds, like white blood cells.

The European Journal of Sport Science performed a double-blind, randomised placebo-controlled study on twenty athletes and concluded that topical arnica application to the affected muscles significantly reduced pain and muscle tenderness 72 hours post-exercise.

Another study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry demonstrates the anti-inflammatory power of helenalin, as it shows to inhibit several types of inflammatory compounds inside living cells.

– Helps prevent and treat osteoarthritis:
When it comes to joint pain, the use of topical creams and ointments is extremely common for the relief of these symptoms. Arnica is extremely effective in this and what’s more, it is suitable for long term use when it comes to joint pain.

Rheumatology International found arnica to be just as effective as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen in the treatment of osteoarthritis in the hands, and had less side-effects.

Advances in Therapy conducted a trial on seventy-nine patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee. After 3 and 6 weeks of applying arnica gel, they noticed a significant improvement in pain, stiffness and function of the knee.

To benefit from the topical wonders of arnica, find a good quality oil, cream or gel, that is to say a product containing a low number of natural ingredients. Avoid any products that contain “fragrances” as the origin of these is often unknown and can be irritant to the skin. You can apply arnica based products to the area of concern two to four times daily by thoroughly massaging the product directly into the skin until it is well absorbed.

Safety Precautions:

Even with natural ingredients its important to be aware of potential reactions when using arnica. While arnica is generally considered safe when used topically, it is useful to first perform a patch test before using on any larger areas of the body. Also avoid consuming arnica oil orally as it can be very strong. Arnica can cause skin irritation, especially if applied to broken skin. If you have any known allergies or are sensitive to plants belonging to the Asteraceae or Compositae family, which includes plants like ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies, you may have an allergic reaction to arnica oil.
To use arnica oil effectively, apply it on unbroken skin for short periods. Avoid using it on damaged or broken skin to prevent excessive absorption and potential toxicity. Do not apply arnica oil to mucous membranes.
Individuals with hypersensitive skin, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using arnica oil. Keep arnica oil out of reach of children.

Conclusion:

Arnica is a natural remedy that has been used for centuries to alleviate joint pain and inflammation. It’s particularly effective in treating bruises, sprains, muscle pain, and osteoarthritis. Arnica oil, cream, or gel can be applied topically to the affected areas for optimal results. Numerous studies have demonstrated the anti-inflammatory properties of arnica, making it a valuable addition to natural first aid kits. However, it’s important to use arnica with caution. Perform a patch test before applying it to a larger area, avoid consuming arnica oil orally, and refrain from using it on damaged or broken skin. Individuals with hypersensitive skin, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using arnica oil, and it should always be kept out of the reach of children. By following these guidelines, arnica can be a beneficial and safe option for managing joint pain and promoting healing.

Sources:

Leu S, Havey J, White LE, Martin N, Yoo SS, Rademaker AW, Alam M. Accelerated resolution of laser-induced bruising with topical 20% arnica: a rater-blinded randomized controlled trial. Br J Dermatol. 2010 Sep;163(3):557-63. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2010.09813.x. PMID: 20412090.

Lyss G, Knorre A, Schmidt TJ, Pahl HL, Merfort I. The anti-inflammatory sesquiterpene lactone helenalin inhibits the transcription factor NF-kappaB by directly targeting p65. J Biol Chem. 1998 Dec 11;273(50):33508-16. doi: 10.1074/jbc.273.50.33508. PMID: 9837931.

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 Apr;27(6):585-91. doi: 10.1007/s00296-007-0304-y. Epub 2007 Feb 22. PMID: 17318618.

Knuesel O, Weber M, Suter A. Arnica montana gel in osteoarthritis of the knee: an open, multicenter clinical trial. Adv Ther. 2002 Sep-Oct;19(5):209-18. doi: 10.1007/BF02850361. PMID: 12539881.

Pumpa KL, Fallon KE, Bensoussan A, Papalia S. The effects of topical Arnica on performance, pain and muscle damage after intense eccentric exercise. Eur J Sport Sci. 2014;14(3):294-300. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2013.829126. Epub 2013 Aug 16. PMID: 23947690.

Smith AG, Miles VN, Holmes DT, Chen X, Lei W. Clinical Trials, Potential Mechanisms, and Adverse Effects of Arnica as an Adjunct Medication for Pain Management. Medicines (Basel). 2021 Oct 9;8(10):58. doi: 10.3390/medicines8100058. PMID: 34677487; PMCID: PMC8537440.

Iannitti T, Morales-Medina JC, Bellavite P, Rottigni V, Palmieri B. Effectiveness and Safety of Arnica montana in Post-Surgical Setting, Pain and Inflammation. Am J Ther. 2016 Jan-Feb;23(1):e184-97. doi: 10.1097/MJT.0000000000000036. PMID: 25171757.


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