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Does Arnica Work?
Does Arnica Work?

What Cream Do “I” Use?

A number of my clients ask me, what cream am I using in my clinic and if they should buy any creams to apply to their sprain or strain? A common “active ingredient” in many creams to treat sprains and strains is arnica. Does arnica work? Arnica is one of the ingredients in the cream I use at work but more by association than anything else, I use this particular cream because the consistency, it doesn’t stain clothes and has a low odor not because of the active ingredients contained in it.

Personally I don’t advise my patients to purchase arnica creams and if I ever have a sprain or a strain I don’t apply or take arnica myself. Arnica however has a fantastic reputation and many people talk about how great it is for muscle pain, sprains and strains as well as bruising, so I thought perhaps I should look into it a little more just in case my patients and I are missing out on something by me not pushing it in my clinic. This is when I came across an article by Paul Ingraham written in 2012 titled “Does Arnica Cream Work For Pain”
This article by Mr Ingraham was a detailed review of popular homeopathic herbal creams designed to be used on the very sorts of complaints I see in my clinic every day addressing the question does arnica work.

The Anecdotal Evidence Of Arnica

Mr Ingraham comments that arnica is popular, and that “A great many people firmly believe that it works. But a lot of people thought drinking mercury was a great cure … and it was killing them… So it’s hard to trust what people believe.” He then states that every person and situation of healing is different and therefore it is impossible to accurately predict how fast healing would have occurred without treatment, “…so patients can’t know that their recovery was accelerated. Faster than what? A guess? A pessimistic one? What about an optimistic one? Surprisingly quick recoveries happen, cream or no. They can easily create an illusion of success.”
As a result someone using arnica cream may have what they believe to be a faster than expected recovery and as a result attribute this speedy recovery to using arnica thus it is easy to see how a reputation can be established. Further more Mr Ingraham comments “Since the experiences of patients who recover well without taking arnica and those who receive no benefit from arnica are less likely to be reported, the myth becomes reinforced.”

Arnica A Popular Homeopathic Herb

Arnica is a popular homeopathic herb, Homeopaths treat with extremely diluted substances believing that “diluted ingredients are medicinally effective because the solution “remembers” something about the active ingredient… They also believe that this effect gets more potent as the original ingredient is further diluted — less is more”

So in reference to homeopathic arnica creams although the active ingredient in the cream may be the herb Arnica if the cream you are using is a homeopathic cream the cream may contain very little Arnica at all. Hence it is important if you are buying an Arnica cream that you are aware what you are buying. If you are buying a homeopathic arnica cream it will most likely have very little arnica in it and will be a homeopathic cream operating on the homeopathic law of infinitesimals. Meaning there is stuff all arnica in it but the cream remembers that there once was some arnica in it and this makes the cream effective.

How Much Arnica Is In A Homeopathic Arnica Cream?

Mr Ingraham goes on to explain the actual amounts of arnica in a popular homeopathic cream “Even in a whole tube, that’s only 0.75mg — not even one thousandth of a gram! It is difficult to overstate how little arnica we’re talking about here. The same amount of the most potent toxins known to man are not considered dangerous… Finally, it is well worth noting that because the dose is applied externally, most of it will never make it through the skin. The actual dose delivered to the tissues is probably much lower still.”

How Much Arnica Is In A Pure Undiluted Arnica Cream?

Mr Ingraham looks at a popular undiluted full strength arnica cream, comparing to a homeopathic arnica cream this cream has a “whopping 65,000 times as much arnica as you’ll get from the same size dose of homeopathically diluted arnica.” he then makes a reasonable comment that due to there being 65,000 times the difference in arnica present between the arnica content of a homeopathic arnica cream verses the pure undiluted arnica cream “It is an oddity that people might buy arnica in either concentrations expecting basically the same result!”
If you are buying a homeopathic arnica cream then you are doing so because you believe in the power of homeopathy however if you are buying a pure undiluted arnica cream (a non homeopathic arnica cream) you are buying a herbal cream not a homeopathic cream because you believe in the power of the herb arnica and I guess the question then is does arnica work and actually do what so many like to claim it does?

What Is Arnica?

Mr Ingraham writes “Arnica montana… It’s “Montana” because it grows in the mountains — mountain arnica… This flower has some anti-inflammatory effects, but it’s not clear that they are strong enough to justify bottling the stuff. The research is incomplete … but partly because it doesn’t show enough potential.” to bother researching further.

“There is almost no question that the undiluted flower has some anti-inflammatory effects. The problem is that it’s unlikely that the effects are strong enough to justify putting it in a bottle. There is no clear, strong, confirmed effect on inflammation … according to the limited research done so far.”

“It takes many years and lots of science to determine which compounds are significant, how significant they are, and how safe, and for what uses, and in what dosages… Arnica has not been subjected to such scrutiny for the simple reason that no study of arnica has ever revealed more than a few minor chemical effects.” Mr Ingraham then goes on to suggest that if some useful compound in Arnica Montana actually existed then researchers would have be onto it years ago.

Does Arnica Work: The Power Of Placebo

So for the question does arnica work? Well lets just say I’m not about to change my approach to practicing to make room for more arnica in my treatments just yet, but placebo can be a powerful weapon in arnica’s crusade meaning the little bit hiding away in my current treatment cream may just help my patients. Providing that no one reads Paul Ingraham article first that is.

Disclaimer: Sydney Physio Clinic does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products mentioned. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance on Does Arnica Work? should consult his or her general practitioner or otherwise appropriately skilled practitioner.

Hayden Latimer is the founder of and principle physiotherapist at Sydney Physio Clinic. Since graduating from Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand he’s gained wide experience practicing across the globe for over 15 years and is now extremely knowledgeable in helping people reduce discomfort and restore function and mobility.

1 Comment

  1. Remedial Massage 3 years ago

    Arnica products that are put on unbroken skin seem to be safe. But should not be used when breast feeding or pregnant.

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