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Can Arnica Gel Help Arthritis?

author image Holly L. Roberts
Holly Roberts is an award-winning health and fitness writer whose work has appeared in health, lifestyle and fitness magazines. Roberts has also worked as an editor for health association publications and medical journals. She has been a professional writer for more than 10 years and holds a B.A. in English and an M.A. in literature.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every five adults in the United States has arthritis. For many people with arthritis, alternative and complementary therapies like arnica gel, combined with medication and exercise, help manage joint pain. Arnica gel, made with the leaves and flowers of the arnica plant, can be applied directly to affected areas to relieve discomfort. Arnica is a flowering plant that grows naturally in the mountains of Siberia and Europe, but it's cultivated in the United States for its cheerful, daisylike orange flowers and its medicinal properties.


Arnica gel is made from a preparation of arnica suspended in gel -- either a tincture, which the University of Maryland Medical Center says is usually prepared with 70 percent ethanol, or an oil made with 15 percent arnica prepared with one part arnica flower to five parts plain vegetable oil. The gel, which can be purchased through medical suppliers, online and in some drugstores, is applied directly to the joints where you're experiencing arthritis pain.


According to the supplement guide in "Arthritis Today," a magazine published by the Arthritis Foundation for people living with arthritis. arnica is reported to reduce inflammation, ease pain and boost the immune system. The University of Maryland Medical Center says that arnica is used to treat bruise-like muscle pain and inflammation, as well as rheumatic pain that's associated with systemic forms of arthritis.


Arnica gel is not used very often in the treatment of arthritis. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and led by Leigh Callahan, PhD., found that 5.2 percent of 1,077 arthritis patients said they used arnica gel or cream to treat their rheumatoid arthritis, and only 3.8 percent of people with osteoarthritis said they used arnica gel or ointment. According to "Arthritis Today," the risks of arnica outweigh the benefits for many people with arthritis.


Though arnica is usually safe when it's applied topically, if you use arnica gel for a long time it can irritate your skin, causing eczema, blisters and peeling skin, warns the University of Maryland Medical Center. Also, be careful not to apply arnica gel to any open sores or wounds, where it can lead to severe irritation and infection. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, get your doctor's OK before using arnica gel to treat arthritis. Never take arnica gel internally: It can cause heart palpitations, miscarriage, paralysis and even death.


Though the University of Maryland Medical Center reports no known interactions with arnica and conventional arthritis medications, always talk with your rheumatologist or health care provider before adding arnica to your self-care routine.

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