Bottom Line/HEALTH: If you’re a mom, you’d better know about arnica. If you’re an athlete or even just a weekend warrior, you, too, should know about arnica.
I’m Sarah Hiner, president of Bottom Line Publications, and this is our Conversation With the Experts, where we get the answers to your tough questions from our leading experts.
Today I’m speaking to Dr. Andrew Rubman, a leading naturopathic physician and the medical director of the Southbury Clinic in Southbury, Connecticut. Dr. Rubman is also a long-term contributing medical editor to Bottom Line. So welcome, Andy.
Dr. Andrew Rubman: Hi, Sarah.
Bottom Line: Arnica, one of my favorite, most frequent things that I go to. Why? Bruises. What is it about arnica that makes it so magical for bruising?
Dr. Rubman: It’s very, very potent stuff. Even more popular with applying it as a liniment, it’s also popular as a homeopathic for the same thing. It has been used back to the time of the Greeks and the Romans, and so we have a lot of really good anecdotal activity about its use. And you’re right—it’s very good against bruises.
Bottom Line: Bruises, and you can take it in general. Again, I said at the opening that every mother should have it. I have active kids, I’m active, and forever, you ding, you hit, you bump. Talk about how you use it topically.
Dr. Rubman: Underscore topically, because if you take it by mouth in any concentration, it’s deadly, as is the case with many medications. What you want to do is you want to use it once you’ve injured yourself. You can’t use it prophylactically. Say you’re going to put it on because you’re going to play soccer so if you do get kicked in the shins, you won’t bruise as badly—it doesn’t work that way.
So you apply it topically. Most of the time, it’s in either a cream or an unguent. There’s a great deal of variation in strength of products. Find one that you like or find one that your professional who’s knowledgeable about those things recommends.
Bottom Line: Can you put it on open wounds or only just closed bruises?
Dr. Rubman: It’s best used on closed wounds. The problem is when you put anything on an open wound, it’s introducing a foreign substance, which can be a place where bacteria or other organisms can thrive. So if you have an open area in the bruised area, put it on the bruised area but not the open area.
The open area, you need to work with a topical disinfectant. At least maybe just washing and cleaning out any debris.
Bottom Line: Does it work on sore muscles, too? Or it’s really primarily for bruises?
Dr. Rubman: You can consider sore muscles to be a variation on a bruised condition, so it will work on sore muscles. It’ll also work on sore tendons and sore ligaments. Not so much on bone bruises.
Bottom Line: You mentioned the homeopathic pellets.
Dr. Rubman: Right.
Bottom Line: How would somebody use the homeopathic pellet for their bruising or their soreness?
Dr. Rubman: The homeopathic pellets are used at what we say is a relatively low-dose level, which means if you’re going to the health-food shop and you want to have this around, you want to look for a 3 or a 6, either an X or a C. Two different methods of preparation.
What you want to do is you want to take small doses repeated frequently until you say, “Wow, I’m beginning to feel better. This feels less painful.” Let that improvement continue until it begins to plateau, and then take another single dose. So you want to use it more like a catalyst.
Bottom Line: In terms of doses, these are very, very tiny little pellets. And is it one, or is it three or four at a time, right after an injury?
Dr. Rubman: With that level of preparation, one is going to do the same pretty much as the entire container. It doesn’t make any sense to take more. It is more of the energetic exposure to the substance, even though that makes some people’s eyes roll. That’s homeopathy.
Bottom Line: It’s kind of like the theory of inoculations, of vaccines.
Dr. Rubman: Tiny doses making incredible changes within the body because they act catalytically. Yeah. Yeah, you might say that. But there’s some people who find it very unconvincing.
Bottom Line: Some people don’t, but some people do. One of the most exciting things I think about arnica recently is that they found that it’s effective with concussions, if you take it soon after the injury. Is that true?
Dr. Rubman: Yeah, because it helps to minimize the effects of the concussion in causing oxygen starvation that occurs oftentimes with bruising, even of brain tissue.
Bottom Line: And that’s huge. Again, with concussions, there’s so much hype—again, attention moms, right? Moms and dads. With the frequency of sports injuries, there’s not a kid that shouldn’t have arnica, carry it around in their backpacks.
Dr. Rubman: Right, as a homeopathic if they’re going to do it for the concussion, of course.
Bottom Line: As a homeopathic, correct. Not the lotion. You don’t want to put it on your hair.
Dr. Rubman: Yeah, it’s not going to get through the skull.
Bottom Line: That’s true. All right. Thank you, Dr. Andy. The bottom line on arnica? It is a great and safe treatment for bruising and for muscle aches. You can use it topically on an injured or sore area—just don’t put it on an open wound. And then you can also use the homeopathic pellets, which you can find in health-food stores or online, and you take those. You dissolve them under your tongue, and that will help internally to heal the bruise and also, most importantly, it can also help with concussion. I’m Sarah Hiner with Bottom Line.