Q: Have you had any experience using arnica gel on bruises and sprains? A friend recommended it, and I think it works as well as Aspercreme on my sore muscles. — R.F., Atlanta
A: Arnica gel is an herbal preparation rubbed into the skin for the treatment of sprains, strains and bruises. The mechanism of action of arnica is through compounds in the arnica plant’s roots that cause blood vessel dilation of the tiny capillaries just under he skin.
The increase in blood flow theoretically promotes quicker healing and resolution of bruises.
Although anecdotal experience is sizable, clinical evidence of its efficacy is thin.
When used topically in a gel preparation, arnica was found (in a small study) to have the same effect as the use of topical ibuprofen cream in treating the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the hands.
Another small study (19 patients) published in the August 2002 issue of Dermatologic Surgery found that the application of topical arnica had no better effect than a placebo in the treatment of laser-induced bruising.
Given that these are small studies, larger studies should be conducted to evaluate arnica more thoroughly.
In my professional experience, I have found arnica gel to be a helpful addition to ice for treating minor bruises and have recommended it along with Myoflex and Aspercreme for treating minor sore muscles.
It’s a very safe treatment option.
Dr. Mitchell Hecht is a physician specializing in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: “Ask Dr. H,” P.O. Box 767787, Roswell, GA 30076. Because of the large volume of mail received, personal replies are not possible.