I was a serious athlete growing up, so I used many kinds of muscle relief products. While my muscle aches were eventually relieved, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What am I putting on my body that smells so terrible?” For years I looked for something completely natural, organic, free from strong smells and good for sore muscles.
It wasn’t until about eight years ago, while on tour with my female rock band, that I discovered arnica. Being a drummer, I often overworked my shoulders, arms, wrists and hands, causing severe muscle soreness, cramps, sometimes even strained ligaments. I was happy to try a natural pain remedy, especially if its pain-relieving properties came from a flower.
At first, I was skeptical. Could a flower really provide relief to my sore muscles? But minutes after I rubbed arnica salve all over my sore muscles, I was feeling better. Since that moment, I began to research and learn whatever I could about this flower.
From my research, I discovered arnica is a perennial related to the sunflower. It has a yellow-orange color and resembles a daisy, except that its flower has soft, furry leaves. It doesn’t have a flowery smell, but a very pleasant pine- and sage-like odor.
The benefits of arnica
Arnica is now becoming well-known as a plant-based pain reliever used by those with sports injuries and suffering from arthritis. It helps reduce bruising and shorten recovery time. It increases circulation, which helps reduce pain and swelling from minor injuries such as muscle sprains and strains. Anahad O’Connor’s 2009 book, The Alternative Medicine Cabinet: Arnica for Pain Relief, details its analgesic uses.
The University of Maryland Medical Center’s online Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide, which draws on several research studies, also offers support for the therapeutic benefits of arnica. The flower is believed to be extremely beneficial in the immediate treatment following an accident or injury, as it goes to work right away on the circulatory system, helping mitigate symptoms of shock. There are also reports that arnica can help with varicose veins and prevent phlebitis.
As a massage therapist, you can extend the benefits of arnica to your clients by choosing a massage oil containing it; athletic clients who often deal with muscle soreness and come to you for deep tissue or sports massage will appreciate arnica’s unique properties. You can also use arnica on your own sore muscles, strains and overuse injuries. It is an ingredient in many herbal topical analgesics, as well as in creams and masks intended to soothe sensitive or irritated skin.
As with any herbal product, you should contact your health care provider before using arnica. It is generally safe; however, arnica can be dangerous for those with chronic liver or kidney disease, or who have open wounds. In addition, pregnant or nursing women should not use arnica.
My entire family uses arnica nearly daily, especially my 3-year-old daughter, Myla. Our home has radiant heat, but the unforgiving cement floor housing it has been responsible for many lumps, bumps and bruises. Whenever Myla has a fall, we apply arnica to the area right away, and it helps immediately. In most cases, her bumps and bruises are barely evident by the next morning. My daughter calls arnica “magic lotion for owies.”
Trish N. Thomas is cofounder and chief formulator of Good Body Products (www.goodbodyproducts.com), a producer of scrubs, salves and other organic products, in Brookline, Vermont. She and her cofounder and husband, Chris, plan for the company to undergo U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program certification in the spring, and open for tours and educational sessions by summer 2015.