Arnica cream is a topical ointment made of an extract of the arnica plant. Arnica cream has been around since the early 1500s. Europeans used arnica to help stomach complaints and skin rashes, but it was the Native Americans who began using it to relieve pain associated with the muscles. Today, it is commonly applied to sprains, bruises and strains. The active ingredients in arnica cream promote tissue healing, reduce swelling and inflammation, and ease pain. It's also frequently used to soothe joint pain related to arthritis and to ease tired, sore, overworked muscles.
Arnica is derived from the arnica montana plant. The arnica montana plant is a relative of the sunflower plant, producing similar large yellow flowers. Arnica montana usually grows 2 feet tall on thick, hairy-looking stems. It is the large, yellow flowers that contain the medicine. The blossoms are usually dried before arnica preparations are made from them, but preparations can also be made from fresh flowers. Other names for the arnica montana plant include "mountaintop tobacco" and "leopard's bane."
The major benefits of arnica cream, such as its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, come from a substance in the blossoms called "sesquiterpene lactone." It reacts in the body in ways similar to aspirin. Arnica is rich in antioxidants and contains high levels of flavonoids, like inulin, tannins and carotenoids.Other active components include thymol, an essential oil used in arnica tinctures; and tannins like isoquercitrin, quercitin and astragalin. These compounds have major anti-inflammatory properties, as well as being an excellent defense against free radicals in the body. Many scientists believe that these compounds also help prevent certain cancers.
Arnica should be considered generally safe for regular topical use. If you are using arnica cream for prolonged use, you may begin to have some reactions. Skin irritations, like redness, itching or blisters are a sign that it's time to stop using the cream. In some people, arnica can aggravate eczema. Eczema flareups can occur at the site where the cream was applied, or anywhere on the body. People who have allergies to arnica or other members of the sunflower family are the most likely to have adverse reactions. Finally, arnica cream should never be used on open woulds or broken skin and should never be taken internally. The level used in the cream is toxic if ingested.
Arnica cream is primarily used for muscles problems. Sprains, strains and bruises respond especially well to arnica cream. It has also been used with similarly promising results on arthritis pain and joint pain not associated with arthritis. It lessens the swelling, bruising or tenderness surrounding bone breaks and fractures. Chronic back pain or neck pain is generally eased by arnica cream. It's also used to ease neck, shoulder and headache pain.
Arnica cream consists of 25 percent arnica tincture, which contains 15 percent arnica oil. The oil is generally extracted by combining one flower head with five parts oil and allowing the flower to infuse the oil. Arnica is generally regarded as safe to use one to three times per day for up to seven to 10 days. If you find you need to use it more often or for longer periods of time, consult your doctor, both to ensure you don't have a serious injury that needs medical attention, and to be monitored for adverse reactions to the arnica cream.