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Arnica ointment has become an indispensable part of many German households. Although the healing effect of this medicinal plant, which is poisonous in its untreated form, has only been known for a relatively short time, it has now found its way into numerous medicines. For minor injuries and sports injuries, the ointment with the healing active ingredient is often consulted and can be used both before and after sports to relieve muscle and joint pain.

In our comprehensive arnica ointment test 2021 we have put together a selection of the best arnica ointments on the market, which will certainly help you choose the right ointment. Arnica ointments are available in high doses as well as in lower concentrations and in this report we have worked out the advantages and disadvantages of both variants and summarised them for you to make your purchase decision as pleasant as possible.




The most important

  • Basically, a distinction is made between arnica ointments with a high or low concentration. While ointments with a concentration of 25% or higher have a stronger pain-relieving effect, ointments with a lower concentration are more universally applicable.
  • Arnica ointments are best suited for the external treatment of minor injuries such as bruises or swellings. However, they can also be used for joint pain or insect bites.
  • The placebo effect of ointments with a lower concentration should also not be ignored and can help with a variety of minor problems.

(All information provided is of an informal nature only. It in no way replaces the doctor!)

The Best Arnica Ointment: Our Picks

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying arnica ointment

Who is arnica ointment suitable for and when does it help?

Basically, arnica ointments are a remedy to combat minor bruises and sprains.

Arnica ointments are mainly used for the external treatment of sports injuries or other bruises. After a fall, bruises or swellings can be soothed by applying the ointment. The decongestant and anti-inflammatory effect unfolds best when the ointment is applied to the affected area as early as possible and massaged in.

Arnica ointment has proven its worth especially in professional sports and should not be missing from any sports bag so that it can be applied directly if the worst comes to the worst. The ointment can also be used after sport to relieve muscle or joint pain.

Arnika Salbe-1

The active ingredient responsible for the healing effect in arnica ointments is extracted from Arnica montana.
(Image source: unsplash.com / Walter Sturn)

Since arnica ointments have few proven side effects or long-term harm to humans, it is also a popular home remedy for treating minor wounds in children. Unlike other pain-relieving medicines, the body does not get used to the ointment, so that ibuprofen or similar remedies still have their full effect in cases of hardship.

Even though the mode of action is still controversial, the placebo effect can also work wonders, especially for children.

However, many manufacturers advise against its use during pregnancy.

In addition to its use for sprains and sports injuries, many physiotherapists swear by the positive effect of arnica on arthritis and rheumatism.

Side effects are rare, but occasionally skin irritation occurs and even more rarely allergic reactions with the ingredients.

What does arnica ointment do?

Arnica ointments help to cure minor bruises and sports injuries. They also have an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effect.

Arnica ointments usually have an analgesic effect when applied externally. For bruises or other external injuries, it fights swelling and is anti-inflammatory. It also supports the regression of haematomas.

In physiotherapy, massaging in arnica ointments can relieve joint pain. Chronic diseases such as rheumatism or arthritis can also be at least partially treated.

What alternatives are there to arnica ointment (painkillers, globules)?

Besides arnica ointment, the popular medicinal plant is mainly found in globules. This homeopathic remedy is often said to have a similar effect as the ointment, but scientists in many places contradict this statement and concede that arnica globules at best have a placebo effect.

In individual cases and in the case of minor injuries in children, this placebo effect may already be sufficient to make the first pain disappear, but in the case of more serious complaints, we recommend treatment with arnica ointment, which promises a stronger effect due to the higher arnica concentration.

A heat balm with arnica, which helps especially with joint pain, can also be used as an alternative to a conventional arnica ointment.

Those who appreciate arnica ointment primarily for its analgesic effect can also resort to other painkillers such as ibuprofen.

Alternative Description
Arnica globules Very controversial. If in doubt, use only as a placebo.
Heat balm with arnica Especially recommended for joint pain.
Ibuprofen Tried and tested painkiller, but should not be used too often.

In case of worse or persistent complaints, a visit to the doctor or pharmacist is of course indispensable and cannot be replaced by this guide.

Which brand suits my needs best?

Arnica ointments are offered by a variety of different manufacturers. However, the mode of action is usually the same, even if some suppliers swear by an improved formula by adding additional ingredients. When choosing an ointment, the arnica concentration is more important than the brand, which is explained in more detail in the following section.

Kneipp, Weleda and Dulàc are among the all-time favourites when it comes to arnica ointments.

Decision: What types of arnica ointments are there and which one is right for me?

Arnica ointments are available in different concentrations. What is meant here is the content of the arnica medicinal plant that is processed in the ointment. Arnica belongs to the poisonous plants and can, in high quantities, harm the human body. In the ointments, however, care is taken to ensure that the arnica content is in quantities that are tolerable for humans and that the plant can thus develop its healing effect.

As a rule, a distinction is made between two different concentrations:

  • Arnica ointment with high concentration (30%)
  • Arnica ointment with low concentration (10%)

These are the most common representatives that can be found in supermarkets or pharmacies, but there are also numerous variants with concentrations that are slightly above, below or in the middle. Each of these variants has its own advantages and disadvantages.

The area of application remains the same in most cases, both for high-dose ointments and for arnica ointments with a lower concentration.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of an arnica ointment with a high concentration?

From 25 to 30 percent one speaks of a high arnica concentration. At these concentrations, a pain-relieving effect can be scientifically proven and swellings are also less severe or disappear more quickly.

Arnica ointments can be helpful in many different situations and belong to the most universally applicable medicines. This is another reason why they are an elementary component in many German medicine cabinets. Normally, the ointments with higher concentrations are more analgesic and also more skin caring.

Advantages
  • Stronger effect
  • Very universally applicable
  • Analgesic
Disadvantages
  • Stronger side effects
  • At a disadvantage compared to other painkillers
  • Contact with open wounds must be avoided

One should be careful with even higher concentrations, as the side effects can be much more serious here, as the plant is toxic to humans in its natural form. From a concentration of 50 percent, an arnica gel has about the same analgesic effect as 5% ibuprofen, but the side effects are stronger.

Contact with open wounds or body orifices should therefore always be avoided.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of low concentration arnica ointment?

According to the manufacturers, the duration of application of arnica ointment with low concentration is not limited and, in addition to the already mentioned application possibilities, it should also have an anti-inflammatory effect on insect bites. In addition, an ointment with this concentration can also be used for the treatment of sports accidents or muscle/joint pain.

This variant also enjoys great popularity and is used by many families in Germany for minor injuries.

Advantages
  • Unlimited application time
  • Very universally applicable
  • Also well suited for insect bites
Disadvantages
  • No proven effect (except placebo)
  • Even low doses must not come into contact with open wounds

Arnica ointments with an arnica concentration of 10% or less have virtually no detectable pain-relieving effect, according to a systematically conducted study from 2014. According to studies, the positive effect of such an ointment on swelling and haematomas is also not demonstrable [2].

Here too, however, the placebo effect and the pleasant feeling when applying the ointment should not be ignored. In the case of open wounds or oral ingestion, even low concentrations can have negative effects on the human body.

Buying criteria: Use these factors to compare and evaluate arnica ointments

This section explains which aspects you can use to decide between the many possible arnica ointments.

The buying criteria mentioned are as follows:

Ointment, gel or creams?

Even though the terms are very similar at first glance, they are further apart than one would think.

Creams consist mainly of water and oil, while ointments, by definition, do not contain water. These two bases already have different effects on the skin without further additives and should therefore be taken into account when choosing.

Ointments rarely cause allergic reactions, while creams feel more pleasant on the skin and are especially suitable for people with oily skin.

Gels are the easiest to apply and also have a cooling effect on the skin.

Product Skin type
Ointment Long application time, good for crusty skin
Creams Short absorption time, optimal for oily skin
Gel Cooling effect when applied, especially suitable for moist oily skin

In Stiftung Warentest, the gels have taken the top places both in terms of the test winner and the price-performance level, but creams and ointments are also among the best-placed.

Mode of action

The arnica plant has been used in medicine in Europe for a long time. Although poisonous in its natural form, it can have an analgesic effect in small concentrations. In addition, when applied externally, it helps to heal wounds and bruises more quickly. The ointment can also be used after athletic exertion and the resulting sore muscles or joint pain.

Insect bites are also made more bearable by the pain and anti-inflammatory effect.

Arnika Salbe-2

Arnica ointments can also help relieve pain in sore muscles or joints.
(Image source: unsplash.com / Jesper Aggergaard)

This is triggered by the natural anti-inflammatory helenalin. By suppressing an immune mediator, it also has an anti-inflammatory effect.

Side effects

Arnica ointments usually have very few side effects. In some cases, however, the ointment can cause irritated skin or other allergic skin reactions. In very rare cases, treatment with arnica ointments leads to more severe allergic reactions.

Because of this, it is worthwhile for allergy sufferers to take a look at the ingredients of arnica ointments. These are referred to in the next section of this article.

Arnica ointments with a concentration of more than 50 percent can cause more severe side effects and allergic reactions.

At a value between 25 and 35 percent, however, the ointments are usually more pain-relieving and also better for the skin, i.e. competitors with lower values, and strong side effects are only rarely the case. For the sake of caution, however, it should be noted that many advisors recommend a smaller dosage for children.

Arnica ointments are intended for external use and should under no circumstances come into contact with eyes, mucous membranes or open wounds. Even if the cause of the complaint is not clear or the pain lasts longer than three to four days, you should consult a doctor or pharmacist to be on the safe side. Use this product only as directed by the manufacturer.

Ingredients

The active ingredient that causes the analgesic effect is an oily extract of arnica flowers, which is, however, added to the ointment in a non-toxic concentration.

In addition, most arnica ointments contain:

  • Refined sunflower oil
  • Antioxidants
  • Deoiled phospholipids from soybeans
  • mulsifying cetylstearyl alcohol (type A)
  • Glycerol monooleate
  • Glycerol 85
  • purified water
  • Cetyl alcohol
  • Stearic acid
  • Benzyl alcohol

Interesting facts about arnica ointments

Placebo effect

Since there is always confusion between the effects of different products containing arnica, it should be pointed out at this point that arnica ointments are said to have a healing effect when used externally, but more caution should be exercised when using arnica in other products.

Even though arnica globules promise a similar effect, many pharmacists agree that an actual effect could not be proven until today. To this day, doctors and advocates of this homeopathic practice are at odds over whether this part of medicine deserves to be taken seriously.

As an ointment, tincture or gel, however, an improvement of the complaints after application has been proven, which is why a strict distinction should be made between these forms of use.

Warnings

Allergic reactions, although not common, have been reported in rare cases. To further reduce the risk, arnica ointments are advised instead of creams or gels, but a residual risk remains.

In addition, the use of arnica ointments during pregnancy is discouraged, which is mainly a precautionary measure due to insufficient studies. If one does decide to do so, the use of a low concentration ointment is recommended.

If the concentration of arnica exceeds 50 percent, more severe side effects may occur, so alternative painkillers are advised in such cases.

Use in animals

In the animal world, too, our four-legged friends often suffer from injuries and haematomas, which is why pain-relieving remedies are also available for them. For example, there are arnica ointments that have been specially developed for use on horses to reduce inflammation. Similar to humans, the swelling is also supposed to go down when the ointment or gel is massaged in.

Arnika Salbe-3

Arnica products can also be used on dogs, especially to protect their paws.
(Image source: unsplash.com / Ayla Verschueren)

For dogs, basically the same rules apply as for human application. The ointment should only be used externally, but then it has a similar anti-inflammatory effect as it does for us. Arnica products are also popular for paw protection.

Picture source: Azarov/ 123rf.com

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