All You Need To Know About Arnica Gel

Perhaps you've seen it at the drug store or heard of it from your friends or plastic surgeon, but may be wondering, what in the world is arnica?

For hundreds of years, arnica montana, a flower closely resembling the daisy, has been used for homeopathic medicinal purposes as a pain reliever and to heal wounds (via St. Lukes Hospital). Native to Europe and Siberia, the popular perennial contains an agent called helenalin, which studies show is where the anti-inflammatory benefits stem from. The flower is used to make creams, gels, and tablets to treat inflammation, pain, and bruising (per Healthline).

Podiatrist and ankle surgeon Suzanne Fuchs tells SHAPE that she recommends arnica gel to her patients post-surgery because "Arnica helps heal and decrease inflammation, relieves pain and soreness, and helps decrease bruising." Lynn Anderson, Ph.D., who is a master herbalist, tells SHAPE that arnica works because it has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory components, and it helps the body self-heal by stimulating circulation. Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Kevin Brenner, M.D., advises his patients to use arnica orally one week before surgery, to help with swelling and bruising.

What the research says about arnica

In 2016, the American Journal of Therapeutics published a review of studies indicating that for post-operative pain, swelling, and bruising, arnica was said to be "a potential therapeutic alternative target to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs." One review published in 2013 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews suggests that arnica gel works as effectively as any other NSAID gels for people with osteoarthritis. Another small study published in 2006 in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, showed that arnica reduced swelling more than a placebo in those who underwent knee surgery. 

According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, there are some drawbacks of using arnica gel, including allergic reactions and skin irritation. Experts also warn that you should not use arnica when taking prescription blood thinners. Like other homeopathic and natural treatments, arnica is not approved by the FDA and research on the alleged benefits of arnica is insufficient. However, according to Fox News, arnica gel is good enough for Olympian athletes to use for muscle soreness and bruising, so it may be worth a try for the regular athlete or fitness buff.