Homeopathic Arnica & Pain, Bruising Prevention after Surgery
A Healthnotes Newswire Opinion
July 24, 2003—Taking homeopathic arnica (Arnica montana) before and after carpal tunnel surgery does not prevent post-surgical pain, swelling, and bruising, according to a new study in Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (2003;96:60–5). This is the latest study to question the effectiveness of this commonly prescribed homeopathic remedy.
Homeopathy is a system of medicine based on the principle of "like-cures-like," which means that a substance that can cause symptoms in a healthy person can be used (usually in extremely small doses) to treat those same symptoms in a sick individual. The prescribed substance (called the "remedy") may be derived from an animal, mineral, or plant. Each remedy is diluted one or more times by a factor of 10 or 100 each time; with repeated dilutions the remedy may become so dilute that not even a single molecule of the original substance would be expected to remain. Repeatedly diluting the remedy causes it to achieve a certain desired "potency"; the more dilute a substance, the more potent it is believed to be. For example, a 12C potency is a substance that has been diluted 12 times, reducing its concentration by 99% with each dilution.
The selection of a specific remedy is based on a person’s total symptoms, rather than on just the presence of a particular disease condition. While arnica is toxic when ingested in whole plant form, homeopathic arnica does not cause any toxic side effects.
In the new study, 62 adults between the ages of 18 and 70 years who were scheduled to undergo surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome were assigned to receive daily pellets of arnica 30C, arnica 6C, or placebo for one week prior to surgery and two weeks following the procedure. Pain, bruising, swelling, and use of analgesic medications were measured initially and at the conclusion of the study.
There was no significant difference in pain, swelling, bruising, or use of analgesic medications among those taking either dose of arnica, compared with those taking a placebo. The researchers concluded that homeopathic arnica is not an effective post-operative treatment. While other studies have also found homeopathic arnica to be ineffective, some studies have shown significant reductions in pain following tooth extraction, and an earlier study did show a reduction of pain in those undergoing carpal tunnel surgery.
The authors of the new study acknowledge that they did not follow the principles of homeopathy, which may have altered the response of the participants. Homeopathic practitioners look at the totality of symptoms in determining which remedy is most appropriate. A homeopathic practitioner may not have found arnica to be the appropriate treatment for some of the participants in this study. Furthermore, the potencies selected might also have been too low for certain individuals. Since the trauma of carpal tunnel release surgery is minimal and it is normal to have few post-operative complications, the benefit of homeopathic arnica may be more pronounced in surgeries where significantly more pain, swelling, and bruising occur.
Despite the conflicting evidence, it is my observation and that of other homeopathic practitioners that arnica can be useful for some individuals with post-traumatic discomfort and bruising. Given the safety and cost-effectiveness of homeopathic arnica, it may be worth trying after surgery if prescribed by someone familiar with that form of treatment. For more specific information, consult a healthcare provider trained in homeopathy.
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Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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