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How Does Arnica Really Work?

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How Does Arnica Really Work?

How Does Arnica really Work?

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About the Author

Asti Renaut

Asti Renaut (BHSc. Comp Med, BA, Adv Dip Nat, Adv Dip Herb Med, MNZAMH)

Asti Renaut is a degree-qualified medical herbalist and naturopath with over ten years clinical experience. Asti practices in Christchurch, New Zealand, treating a wide range of health issues. She especially enjoys working with infants and children, and finally has one of her own to practice on! One of the cornerstones of Asti's practice and philosophy is the importance of education and sharing information. She believes that empowering clients to understand their own bodies and health, and giving practical tips and tools to use from the garden and kitchen are just as important for wellness as qualified professional care. 

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Preparations of the flowers of Arnica montana seem to find their way into many people’s medicine cabinets, even those who are otherwise not particularly herbally inclined. My grandmother started buying Arnica cream from her local pharmacy when she heard that the All Blacks used it. As for many Kiwis, or for rugby fans worldwide, this is a huge endorsement! Rugby players definitely have plenty of occasion to use a cream that can reduce pain, inflammation and bruising and speed recovery from accidents and injuries!

My grandmother, who died at 94, also had the need for such a cream, being prone herself to bumps and accidents, and with the thinner skin and easy bruising that is the bane of many elderly people’s lives. So while these accidents may have been of a somewhat lower impact than that of our star athletes, it goes to show that a remedy for injuries and trauma is needed by almost everyone. I certainly know that as a mother of an 18-month old I have reached for Arnica preparations like Kiwiherb's SprainAway on an almost daily basis to apply to the various bumps and bangs that my little girl suffers as she learns to walk and run and climb, and discovers the notions of balance and gravity!

Many people know that Arnica is used for bumps and bruises, but not many people could tell you how it actually works. Like many herbs with strong histories of traditional use, modern research and clinical trials are slowly catching up to flesh out our understandings of these plants and how they might function to assist human bodies.

Supporting traditional use externally on the skin for sprains, bruises, injuries and painful swellings, clinical trials have shown specifically that Arnica is effective for:

  • Muscle aches
  • Venous insufficiency (poor circulation and swelling of the lower leg)
  • After Carpal-Tunnel release surgery

The ways in which it works seem to be the following:

  • Reduces inflammation
  • Reduces pain
  • Protects against some damage to capillaries (the small blood vessels that are damaged when bruising occurs)
  • Reduces oedema (fluid and swelling)

It is thought that specific components of Arnica work at a cellular level to change the processes occurring in specific white blood cells (neutrophils) and also in liver cells, producing these anti-inflammatory effects. It also seems to improve circulation in the tissues where it is applied, and strengthen blood vessels.

Because of these effects, mobility and healing are both promoted, making for a more speedy recovery.

Another potent botanical used for sprains and strains that will be more of a familiar sight to many of you is Comfrey. Comfrey - Symphytum officinale – is a herbal medicine used for reducing inflammation and aiding recovery from injury. Its traditional name is ‘Knit-bone’, describing its powerful healing ability. In recent years many clinical trials have proved its efficacy; studies on ankle sprains, back pain and arthritis all demonstrated that putting comfrey products like Kiwiherb's Comfrey Ointment on the affected areas helped with swelling, mobility and pain. In one study it was shown to be more effective than the commonly used diclofenac gel. So these two herbs, Arnica and Comfrey, combine to make a powerful therapeutic team to fight pain, swelling and inflammation.

Comfrey is easily sourced in New Zealand, as it grows, literally, like a weed (many would say it IS a weed!). Arnica on the other hand has been on the decline in its native European habitats in recent years, so it is important to use sustainably-sourced Arnica, such as that grown in New Zealand. If we don’t look after our Arnica, it can’t go on looking after us, our children, our grandmothers, or our rugby players!