Arnica for bruises and muscle strains
My athletic kids often have bruises and muscle strains. Any herbal suggestions?
Yes! Your herbal go-to for bruising and muscle strains is the topical use of the herb, Arnica (Arnica spp.). I first learned about the medicinal use of this beautiful, yellow, subalpine flower from my intrepid outdoor friends, Jane and Chuck, who gather it annually from the mountains of western Colorado. They are part of a long tradition of folks who've recognized and valued the anti-inflammatory effect of Arnica on bruises and injured muscles, tendons and ligaments. But how this herb heals, noticeably reducing swelling and pain, has not been well understood. It seems to affect white blood cells, but also there is new research revealing that one of the ways it may work is by increasing fibronectin, a protein in your body that is critical for wound healing. Pretty cool for a little yellow flower!
To me, Arnica is a staple of the natural home medicine cabinet. Every home medicine cabinet and first aid kit should be stocked with a high quality, topical cream, salve or oil that contains Arnica as a primary ingredient. You will find that applying this topical remedy will reduce pain and speed healing of bruises, sore muscles and strains. In our home, we apply it to all manner of bonks and bruises, sore feet, tweaky knees, overworked quads and strained ankles. It's worth a try for carpal tunnel, plantar fasciitis, arthritic knees, or any musculoskeletal pain that comes from overuse or overexertion. Rub into affected area nightly, or 2-4 times per day if needed.
Cautions: do not apply it to broken skin! If your strain or bruise is accompanied by a wound on the skin, wait until that heals, before using Arnica. And, please, stop using it if it irritates your skin. Also, its important to note that internal use of herbal Arnica is NOT recommended because of evidence that it can be toxic when ingested (this is also why you should wait until skin abrasions heal before using it, lest it enter your bloodstream).
Therefore, I only recommend use of herbal Arnica as a topical remedy. When you shop for Arnica creams you will find that some are herbal formulas, that utilize an extraction of the plant’s healing phytochemistry into an oil, and some are homeopathic formulas. I prefer the topical herbal preparations because my clients have found them to be more effective.
Confusingly, there is a homeopathic tablet of Arnica, and that is actually a great addition. The homeopathic arnica tablets (taken orally) are very safe, because they do not contain the same phytochemical found in an herbal preparation.
So, if you or your family members get bumps, bruises, strains?
Topical: Topical herbal Arnica cream or salve (do not use on broken skin!) Here are two nice formulas - a simple oil from Avena Botanicals or this salve from Galen’s Way, which incorporates other botanicals.
Internal: Homeopathic Arnica tablets (do not use herbal arnica internally!) The homeopathic tablet preparation IS safe and is a great addition; Boiron is a quality brand and is easily found online or at your heath food store. Please, do not use herbal Arnica internally!
As an herbalist, considering a plant’s natural habitat is always of interest to me. I love that Arnica naturally grows near the mountains and I like to think the strength of the mountains is passed on to those who use it and find relief. I hope this wonderful plant finds a place in your medicine cabinet!
Note: Because Arnica species are so helpful, in some parts of the world they have been overharvested and are now under special protection; in the U.S and Canada they are classed on the United Plant Savers "to watch" list, one step away from "at risk". I will always try to recommend products that meet high ethical and quality standards, but for more information on choosing herbal products that are also sustainably cultivated and harvested, please check out The Sustainable Herb Project and United Plant Savers.
Image source: Source: http://vitamedica.com/wellness-blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Arnica-Montana-Plant.jpg