Poor circulation can have detrimental effects on the body, according to healthline.com. Tingling, numbness, throbbing or stinging pain or muscle cramps, primarily in the extremities, can signal sluggish circulation. Left unchecked, reduced blood flow may cause blood clots, varicose veins, peripheral artery disease, atherosclerosis or diabetes, the site notes.
Some research studies and massage experts have found that an herb may stimulate circulation and help resolve some of these problems.
Arnica in the Lab
Researchers at the Integrative Medicine Department at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center report that laboratory experiments on animals suggest arnica may have the ability to kill bacteria and reduce inflammation, although more research is needed to determine if these results can be replicated in humans.
Another study indicates that arnica may lower the incidence of bruising and speed up wound healing following surgical procedures. A 2010 trial found that a topical ointment containing 20 percent arnica was better at reducing bruising than placebo or low-concentration vitamin K creams.
One Herb, Many Applications
Arnica comes in different forms: creams, ointments, gels and oils. According to massage therapist Dianna Dapkins, founder and owner of Pure Pro Massage Products, a company offering arnica-infused massage creams, oils and lotions, gel products with arnica are usually alcohol-based and offer a slight benefit beyond those in other formats. Arnica creams are somewhat better, but typically contain a minimal amount of the herb. Dapkins asserts that in concentrated form, arnica oil provides maximum benefit.
Additionally, the geographic area in which the arnica flower is grown will impact its potency, Dapkins notes. “The higher the elevation, the better. Flowers grown in Switzerland or the Rockies will have better anti-inflammatory properties,” she says.
To derive the maximum benefit from arnica, Dapkins suggests applying a small amount—one or two drops of concentrated oil—to the desired area, followed by massage with your favorite cream.
“This works with the body’s own system to help dispose of waste and increase circulation. The arnica speeds up the process,” she says, adding that cream applied after the oil enhances the effects; though she warns not to use too much oil, since it can break down the emulsion in the cream. Clients can follow this regimen at home, applying very small amounts of oil several times throughout the day.
“We use arnica on nine out of 10 clients, in some form, to treat fasciitis, neuropathy, lower-body edema. It helps speed recovery time and mitigates pain,” Dapkins says. Although arnica has the power to penetrate and rev up circulation, she notes that the herb does not induce a cold sensation on the skin.
Dapkins has also used arnica to reducing bruising and varicosity, but she cautions not to use arnica directly on varicose veins. Rather, she suggests gently applying arnica to the surrounding area to stimulate circulation. “Blood is pooling in the veins, so there is a lot of waste product trying to make its way back through the body’s system,” she says.
While arnica can help improve circulation and reduce inflammation and bruising, there are conditions under which the herb should not be used. When pain or throbbing is present, Dapkins does not advise using arnica.
“A person with any condition exacerbated by blood-thinning products should not use arnica,” she added. “For instance, a recent stroke victim. They spontaneously bruise. And a client with a lot of circulatory issues should consult a doctor before using arnica. Also, a person with an allergy to the sunflower or daisy family should not use arnica.”
To Help Improve Circulation, Give Arnica a Try
Incorporating arnica-containing topical products into your massage treatments may enhance the effectiveness of your work, and offering them for retail sale can be a great way for clients to continue receiving arnica’s benefits between sessions.
About the Author
Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human-interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty areas include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage. She has written many articles for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Why You Should Use Cocoa Butter.”