The effect of topical arnica on muscle pain

By | August 28, 2012

The effect of topical arnica on muscle pain.


Clinical Pharmacist Faculty, Memorial Family Medicine Residency Program, Sugar Land, TX, USA.


The herb Arnica montana, in topical formulations, has been reputed to decrease bruising and muscle pain. This claim has been inadequately and incompletely addressed.


To determine whether topical A. montana cream could decrease subjective leg pain following calf raises. Secondary outcomes were effects on ankle range of motion and muscle tenderness.


A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was conducted in 53 subjects. Active range of motion was measured in both ankles, and then a series of calf-raises were completed according to a standardized protocol. Each participant received 2 tubes of cream, 1 with active arnica and 1 with placebo. The creams were applied to the lower legs immediately after the exercise, and again at 24 and 48 hours postexercise according to the “RIGHT” or “LEFT” labels. At 48 hours postexercise, subjects had their ankle range of motion and muscle tenderness measured. Subjects used the analog scale to rate pain in each leg at baseline, 24 hours, 48 hours, and 72 hours.


No significant differences in pain scores were seen before exercise (arnica: 0.07 vs placebo: 0.09, p = 0.32). Pain scores on legs treated with arnica were higher than scores on those receiving placebo 24 hours after exercise (3.04 vs 2.36, respectively; p < 0.005). Pain scores on day 3 (arnica: 3.44 vs placebo: 3.20, p = 0.66) and day 4 (arnica: 2.36 vs placebo: 2.31, p = 0.62) were not significantly different. There was no difference in muscle tenderness (arnica: 1.05 vs placebo: 1.05, p = 1.0). Ankle range of motion did not differ significantly on either day 1 (arnica: 64.70 degrees vs placebo: 66.15, p = 0.352 or day 3 (arnica: 63.32 degrees vs placebo: 65.94, p = 0.058).


Rather than decreasing leg pain, arnica was found to increase leg pain 24 hours after eccentric calf exercises. This effect did not extend to the 48-hour measurement.

via The effect of topical arnica on muscle pain. [Ann Pharmacother. 2010] – PubMed – NCBI.

I’ve got some very sore calves from hiking 3.5 hours with a 38 lb pack with a 1500 ft elevation gain this past Sunday. My alternative therapist gave me some arnica and I’ve been using it, but my muscles are still sore.€  After reading the above, I’m wondering if arnica made it worse. Or is this another cover up of a safe and effective healing herb?

One thought on “The effect of topical arnica on muscle pain

  1. licky

    I have found homeopathic remedies need to be applied every 3 or so hours with acute pain. Internally, as well as externally. That has worked for me. Xeno, are you doing this? In the study, the remedy was not applied nearly enough. There is no silver bullet or quick application to fix an issue. I have found homeopathic remedies to be supportive of the direction of healing, not to magically provide it. Time, attention, persistence of usage, correct dosage.

    Also, read below. Double blind placebo controlled studies are not the ‘gold standard.’ To fully understand them we need to acquainted with more than what we read, as in the methodology.

    From PubMed:

    Merrell WC, Shalts E.

    Continuum Center for Health and Healing, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York, New York, USA.

    Especially in the United States, homeopathy has not become integrated into mainstream medical practice; this is partly because of the historical paucity of quality published research studies or quality educational programs. More recently, there have been better-designed studies in reputable journals, although historically most studies have been inconclusive or of poor methodology. The confusion around homeopathy in the United States exists for several reasons: 1. One of the main reasons for the relative disinterest or opposition to homeopathy is that even well-designed clinical studies on homeopathy leave the reader without any protocol-driven tools to take into daily practice. Individualization of treatment, or, as it is called today, differential therapeutics, is the main requirement of successful homeopathic prescribing. Only well-trained homeopathic practitioners are able to carry out such a task. In many articles that reported positive outcomes for homeopathy, numerous homeopathic remedies had been prescribed for the same diagnostic category. Critics suggest that the pooling of data from trials using different therapeutic agents to assess the overall success of homeopathic prescribing is incorrect. Research protocols that employ combination remedies, in which a medication contains several homeopathic remedies, fall into the same category. 2. Many of the positive and negative studies published are flawed with numerous methodologic problems. One of the most common problems is a lack of objective validated outcome measures. Another common problem is a small sample size. In most positive and negative meta-analyses published to date, research data are pulled together artificially based on either a diagnostic category or a particular remedy. Frequently the concentration of the remedy used and the conditions to which it has been applied are different. Ernst and Pittler published a letter with a critique of the methodology used in one of the meta-analyses of clinical trials of homeopathy. Most importantly, professional homeopaths and conventional scientists criticize the choice of remedy or the condition to which it was applied or both. The design and follow-up in migraine studies has been criticized extensively by one of the world’s leading homeopaths, Vithoulkas (personal communication, 1997). Most of the Arnica studies have been designed with either an inappropriate dosing regimen or an inappropriately chosen procedure. In most positive studies on homeopathy, the outcome measures were subjective and poorly quantifiable. 3. Few well-designed studies have been reproduced by independent research teams. This situation exists for two major reasons: lack of sufficient funding and lack of a sufficient number of well-trained homeopaths qualified and interested to participate in research. 4. More rigorous educational programs on homeopathy for professionals need to be encouraged. Most of the existing programs are designed for consumers; academic continuing medical education-quality courses are needed. Meanwhile, while the debate around homeopathy still continues in conventional medical circles, the general public has been using the services of homeopathic practitioners and homeopathic remedies increasingly. In many countries, homeopathy and other complementary modalities have been integrated successfully into a larger armamentarium for the modern physician. According to a study published in 1995 in the Journal of the American Board of Family Practice, 69% of family practice physicians expressed interest in learning more about homeopathy. Increasing public and professional interest calls for attempts to study homeopathy in a more systematic way and to provide quality academic overview for medical practitioners. The growing number of complementary and alternative medicine centers affiliated with major teaching hospitals should provide a solid interface between evidence-based biologic medicine and many emerging complementary and alternative medicine modalities, including homeopathy.

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