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Using Arnica to Treat Strains, Sprains and Bruises

Updated on August 8, 2010

Arnica is an herbal remedy that is commonly used to treat strains, sprains and bruises. It is used by many professional athletes and commercial ointments and liniments are widely available. These ointments are applied topically to help reduce swelling and aid in healing.

Although you can buy homeopathic arnica treatments, these are so highly diluted that no part of the plant can be detected. This is a good thing, since the arnica plant is poisonous. However, due to the high level of dilution in homeopathic arnica, you are basically just buying water, so although it won't do you any harm, it won't do you any good either so make sure you buy a topical cream if you are going to use arnica to help heal your sprains and strains.

Where Does Arnica Come From?

The most commonly used type of arnica for medicinal purposes comes from a plant with the scientific name of Arnica montana.  However, other related species are sometimes used as well.  The arnica plant is also known by the common names Leopard's bane, mountain tobacco, mountain snuff and sneezewort.

The active ingredient is called thymol, and is found in the roots of the arnica plant.  Thymol works by diluting the blood vessels in the area where the arnica ointment or liniment is applied, which allows the blood to circulate more freely and helps reduce the amount of swelling and speed up the healing process.

Arnica Warnings

Arnica does not usually cause any side effect when used externally.  However, if you use it for an extended period of time, you may experience skin irritation including blisters, peeling and eczema.  It can also cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to it.

Arnica contains a toxin called helenalin, which can be fatal if ingested in sufficient quantities.  For this reason, arnica is usually used only externally.  It should not be ingested except under strict supervision by a doctor.  Symptoms that can be caused by ingestion of arnica include vomiting, tremors, dizziness, heart irregularities and bleeding of the digestive tract.

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