Rediscovering Arnica Gel - A Natural Topical Pain Reliever
I first came across Arnica gel several years ago in California. While having dinner at the home of one of the NFA board members, I happened to mention that I had been having a lot of pain in my right arm. Karin, our hostess, said she had something that would help. She left the room and quickly returned with a tube of Arniflora Arnica Gel. I had never heard of it, but she assured me it was an all-natural topical pain reliever. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try it so I rubbed some of the gel on my painful arm before returning my attention to the other dinner guests. Less than half an hour later, I realized that the pain in my arm was gone. Before I left Karin’s home that night, I asked her to repeat the name of the gel so I could write it down. Instead she very kindly gave me the rest of the tube to take with me.
At this point, you’re probably thinking that I continued to use the Arnica gel on a regular basis. The truth is, when I got back home to Tennessee, I put the tube of Arnica gel in the container with my various other over-the-counter remedies and promptly forgot about it. Since the majority of my fibromyalgia pain is body-wide, I seldom think of using a topical pain reliever - I’d have to practically bathe in it to cover all the painful areas. Without another immediate need for a topical pain reliever, my Arnica gel experience simply faded into the ever-present fibro fog.
Fast forward to this weekend. I developed an intense burning pain in my upper back, between the base of my neck and my shoulder. It’s a pain I sometimes get when I’ve spent too many consecutive hours at the computer. It will usually go away with several hours rest - but not this time. The pain that had started Friday night was even worse by Saturday night and I couldn’t put off working at my computer any longer.
Desperate to find something to ease the pain enough that I could work, I began digging through my container of assorted cold remedies, ointments and bandages. When I saw the old tube of Arnica gel, I remembered the relief it had given me so many years before and quickly applied it to the painful spot on my back. Within a few minutes, the burning and pain were gone and I was able to spend several hours working at my computer.
What is Arnica Gel?
After such impressive results, I decided I wanted to know exactly what Arnica gel is. It turns out that Arnica gel is made from Arnica montana, a species of flower belonging to the sunflower family. The brand I used - Arniflora Arnica Gel - is 8% tincture of Arnica montana in a witch hazel base.
Arnica montana is known for its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties and has been used medicinally around the world for centuries as a temporary remedy for bruises, muscle and joint pain, swelling and stiffness. It is often used by athletes, coaches and trainers to ward off pain, stiffness and bruises from over-exercising and sports injuries.
From what I have found, Arnica is relatively safe to use as a topical gel, but it is not recommended that it be taken internally as it may cause vomiting, diarrhea, internal bleeding, rapid heartbeat, muscle weakness, nervousness, nosebleeds, and coma. Although homeopathic solutions with dillutions of 25x or more are probably safe, I personally prefer to stick to the gel.
Clinical trials done with Arnica have had mixed results. A systematic review done in 1998 acknowledged that most of the studies they reviewed had severe flaws, nevertheless they concluded, "The claim that homeopathic arnica is efficacious beyond a placebo effect is not supported by rigorous clinical trials." However, several newer studies suggest notable benefits for osteoarthritis, pain and postoperative swelling.
Arnica gel is probably available at most health food stores. What I used - Boericke & Tafel’s Arniflora Arnical Gel - is also available through Amazon.com and other online sites. I noticed that Amazon customers rated it at five out of five stars.
If you’ve ever used Arnica gel, I’d love to hear what you thought of it. Just click "Comments" below to share.
Ernst E, Pittler MH. Efficacy of homeopathic Arnica: a systematic review of placebo-controlled clinical trials. Arch Surg. 1998 Nov;133(11):1187-90. Knuesel O, et al. Arnica montana gel in osteoarthritis of the knee: an open, multicenter clinical trial. Adv Ther. 2002 Sep-Oct;19(5):209-18.
Widrig R, Suter A, Saller R, Melzer J. Choosing between NSAID and Arnica for topical treatment of hand osteoarthritis in a randomized, double-blind study. Rheumatol Int 2007;27(6):585-91.
Brinkhaus B, Wilkens JM, Ludtke R, et al. Homeopathic Arnica therapy in patients receiving knee surgery: results of three randomized double-blind trials. Complement Ther Med 2006;14(4):237-46.
Robertson A, Suryanarayanan R, Banerjee A. Homeopathic Arnica montana for post-tonsillectomy analgesia: a randomized placebo control trial. Homeopathy 2007 96(1):17-21.
Karen is the co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.