Arnica is a flowering plant often used in homeopathic and herbal treatments for recovery from surgery, dental work, sprains, bruising, sports injuries, burns, ulcers, edema, arthritis, wounds, phlebitis, joint pain, swelling due to fractures and skin problems. Arnica has active ingredients that assist the normal healing processes of the body's immune system.
A number of studies point to arnica's effectiveness. Clinical trials at the Valens Clinic for Rheumatism published in the September-October 2002 issue of Advances in Therapy showed anica to be useful for treating arthritis. Doctors at the Frankfurt Medical School led by Karow Jens-Hagen found in a 2008 study that arnica improved the healing of post-surgical wounds. In a pilot study published in the 2003 issue of the Journal of Complementary Medicine indicated that arnica was effective in relieving post-surgical bruising and pain.
Ordinarily when an injury occurs, the body's inflammatory response works to fight infections, initiate repair of damages and clear away debris and toxins. As the inflammation progresses, however, the body's response can easily get out of hand, with the affected area becoming red, swollen, painful and hot to touch. Arnica contains compounds that can modulate the inflammatory response and help dissipate trapped blood and fluid in injured muscles, tissues and joints. It can diminish bruising, as well.
Homeopathic preparations of arnica are widely used, but they remain a source of controversy. The preparation of homeopathic remedies involves diluting the active ingredients of a substance to a very low concentration. This makes many scientists skeptical of the effectiveness of most homeopathic remedies. However, doctors at the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine in Switzerland concluded that the active ingredients in homeopathic arnica, though extremely dilute, are still potent enough to exert an anti-inflammatory effect.
Preparations of fresh or dried arnica flowers contain larger concentrations of the herb's active ingredients. They are available in the form of creams, ointments, gels, liniment or salves that can be applied to the skin over the site of injury. The alcohol extracts of arnica called tinctures can be added to water to make a herbal wash that can used to soak bandages or applied directly.
Herbal preparations of arnica are for external use only. The plant extract can be poisonous if taken internally. For this reason, it should not be used on broken skin or ulcerations. Although arnica is safe when used externally, it may irritate the skin in sensitive or allergic individuals. Homeopathic arnica is an extremely dilute form of the herb, and therefore it can be used internally with no ill affects.
Patience Paradox is a licensed counselor. She has been a health and psychology writer for more than 15 years and her work has appeared in the "Encyclopedia of Nursing," among other journals. She has master's degrees in clinical psychology and a bachelor's degree in health sciences.