Homeopathic Remedy Arnica by Richard Pitcairn, DVM, PhD
Blog 1: Arnica and Injury
Most of us know that Arnica is the big remedy for injuries but what is usually not known is that it is useful for only certain types. It has come into prominence because it so often addresses the type of injury one experiences: the common blows, contusions, and falls. But why doesn’t it deal with all injuries? This has to do with understanding how homeopathic remedies act. Most of us slip into the idea that we have to deal with what caused the problem. If an injury, then a medicine that treats injury; if a poison, then one that treats poison. Homeopathy is not like that. The major discovery 200 years ago was that what must be treated if the person is to regain health, is the effect of whatever happened to them, not the presumed cause.
OK, this is not immediately obvious is it? Let’s look at it like this: Say you were playing baseball and your friend accidentally hits your arm with a bat. Is there only one thing that could happen? Most likely is a painful bruising of the arm tissues, perhaps even turning black and blue. But what could also happen is a fracture of the bone, or if not that, then a bruising of the bone. Or how about the skin being torn open? Or a blood vessel being smashed open and the tissues filling with blood? Get the idea?
So we homeopathic practitioners pay close attention to the state of the person (or animal) after the injury has occurred. In a sense we are asking “In what way were you affected by this?” We could just look at the injury as the cause and treat that way but it is not skillful or the way successful homeopathy has been practiced for over 200 years. The original discovery, that is the basis of homeopathic work, is that of the whole condition of the patient — the “part” that must be treated — is the state of that individual as a result of what happened.
So what does Arnica correspond to? The state of the patient that most often makes Arnica useful is a feeling of soreness, of being bruised, as if they had been beaten. And this is primarily felt in the muscles and softer tissues of the body. Arnica does not especially address injuries to bone, cartilage, nerves, internal organs, etc., although it could if there is a feeling of soreness and other indications of Arnica. However, there are other remedies usually much better suited for these injuries.
In the New World Veterinary Repertory, there are 42 remedies listed for treatment of blows and contusions. Each of these remedies correspond to specific states that follow the injury. Arnica is a biggie in that list but there are other biggies as well, and then a multitude of less often used remedies that are useful to know as sometimes that is how it goes for some people and animals.
For example, you will see among those 42 remedies, Calendula, a wonderful remedy for large ragged wounds of the skin. A lovely remedy for injuries to nerves, especially of the tips of fingers and toes or the teeth, Hypericum, is also there. Then we have Ruta (and other remedies) for bone fractures. Each of these corresponds to a different state, different feelings, different pain, different part injured, yet all of them are in the list of remedies for blows and contusions.
Have I confused you enough? It gets more complicated. For each of these states of injury above — laceration, nerve damage, or fracture — there are many remedies that are applicable, each a little different from the others. The homeopathic practitioner, from study and experience, chooses the best one for that particular patient. Does it matter? Yes, because the best remedy will be almost miraculous restoring health very quickly, while a less suitable remedy will have only temporary or partial effects. Thus the skill the practitioner possesses.
Is treatment of injuries the only use of Arnica? No, but let’s leave that for another piece (to be continued).
Blog 2: Arnica Injuries Extended
Before we go on to uses of Arnica outside of injuries, let’s explore more how Arnica can be used in different types of injuries. If you remember, from the last discussion, that a homeopathic prescription consists of using a medicine (remedy) that matches the condition the person is in. To decide what to use for an injury we find out first what is the result of the injury. Then knowing this, we select the medicine with accuracy. For using Arnica what we are matching is a feeling of soreness of the muscles and tissues because of being hit or falling down. If we use this understanding as a guide, then we can realize that there can be this soreness, at least as part of the problem, from being bitten, or from breaking a bone or some other cause.
For example, if a bone is broken it usually is because of a hit or fall, and so the tissues over the bone have been made sore, along with the bone itself being broken. Having stated this, you can see how Arnica can be useful in treating a fracture, but at the same time you realize there is more to the injury than the soreness of the soft tissues. In practice, then, it can be appropriate to start with a dose of Arnica, but then following in a few hours with another remedy that addresses the bone injury. To make this more clear, if there is very little soreness of the tissues outside the bone itself (perhaps a break occurs from stepping wrong?) then Arnica will have very little or no effect when it is used. It does not correspond to the pain coming from the periosteum (the covering of the bone from which pain is generated). However, can you also see that there could be a type of bone injury (that being the diagnosis) where the major damage is to the soft tissues (around the bone)? There is a type of fracture called compound fracture, which means the bones are so separated that they stick out at an angle. For example, if it is a leg bone, the sharp broken ends can be sticking into the muscle, or even coming out through the skin. In this case, Arnica is a medicine par excellence because it addresses all that damage to the non-bone tissues which is the cause of the pain and suffering.
It can also be, in an injury of multiple body areas, that the overwhelming experience is the pain of the many macerated tissues even though there are also broken bones as part of what has happened.
Here is an example taken from the autobiography of Richard Moskowitz, MD who has had a career in homeopathic practice for several decades.
“My first patient was myself, waking from a concussion after a head-on collision with a drunk driver, bleeding from a scalp laceration, and in considerable pain from several rib fractures. Sitting erect in the ambulance, I felt dazed but otherwise tolerably OK until the EMT deposited me onto a Gurney at the ER, flat on my back, helpless, and immobile, the slightest change in position sending stabs of pain through my chest that sapped my strength and will to recover. When my nurse arrived to take me home, I took from my bag a powder of Arnica 200, put a few granules on my tongue, and within a few seconds was able to lift my bloody shirt over my head and take it off without her help, an incredible feat under the circumstances. Feeling no more pain for several days, I recovered without further incident.”
— From Plain Doctoring, Selected Writings 1983–2013.
We see, in this example, that the primary injury was the massive and multiple concussions to his head and chest, and that Arnica corresponded to this and therefore acted magnificently. This points to the observation that has been made in homeopathic practice that if we identify and remove (by using the appropriate remedy) the primary disturbance then the body responds by rapidly healing all that is wrong. In other words, one does not always have to treat “separate” parts like the head injury, the scalp laceration, the broken ribs. When the appropriate remedy is given, the whole machine jumps into action and healing begins.
Next piece, let’s explore further the non-injury applications for which Arnica can be the best medicine.
Blog 3: Arnica for treating other conditions
Last time we asked if Arnica could treat conditions other than injury. Does it make sense to you to ask it like this “Are there other conditions in which this soreness of muscles and soft tissues can be the primary form of suffering?” Yes, there are such states that are not the result of injury. As an example, Arnica is one of the outstanding remedies for flu. We know there are many ways one can be sick with flu — perhaps vomiting and diarrhea, or fever and chills, but many people will complain early on of muscle soreness and aching. If this is the chief way the flu has developed itself then Arnica is the remedy that will address it and bring recovery about very quickly.
We can be sure that animals will have this feeling as well, but it is difficult to determine that because they can’t tell us in words this is what they are feeling. So, in practice, the veterinary homeopathic practitioner will be looking for other indications that suggest Arnica and there is real giveaway for Arnica that helps you recognize it. The person or animal in an Arnica state (with internal soreness as described above) does not want to be approached or touched. The doctor will attempt to examine the patient but they vigorously refuse that. Underlying this is the fear that touching the affected area will make it worse. “Well”, you say, “isn’t that normal? Who would want a painful area touched?” Good point, but in practice you will see quite a variation. With some injuries it feels good to rub it or massage it, in other cases the desire to be comforted or held overcomes any concern about the injury itself being touched. With Arnica, however, the fear of approach is strongly demonstrated and this often gives the practitioner the clue as to the need for that remedy.
Here is an description of this aversion to approach described by one of the important historical figures of homeopathic medicine, Dr. James Kent. He is discussing use of Arnica in treatment of gout. If you don’t know, gout is a very painful inflammation of some of the (usually) foot joints, with great swelling of the part affected. Kent puts it like this:
“It is quite a common thing for old cases of gout to rouse up into a new soreness of joints, with great sensitiveness. You will see the old grand-father sit off in a corner of the room, and if he sees little Johnnie running towards him, he will say, ‘Oh, do keep away, keep away.’ Give him a dose of Arnica and be will let Johnnie run all over him. He does not want to be touched or approached; he feels that anything that is coming towards him is going to hurt him. He is extremely sensitive, his joints are sore and tender and he is afraid they will be hurt.”
[From Kent’s Lectures on Materia Medica, 1905.]
As we think about it, we can see that a painful feeling of soreness is actually a quite common symptom in many infectious diseases. This next is a description of the typical state of a person sick with Typhoid Fever that will respond curatively to treatment with Arnica. Typhoid Fever is a condition very much like Parvovirus so, if you like, you can read it as a Parvo case:
“The type of typhoid fever, calling for Arnica exhibits a larger view of this drug’s general characteristics. Gradually increasing prostration; mental dullness; weariness as after a long journey; seems as if in thought, yet thinks nothing; wants to lie down and be let alone. In bed he is constantly shifting to find a soft spot on account of the sore bruised feeling of the surface of the body. The dazed state of mind gradually merges into low muttering delirium and stupor.”
Then follows description of the mental condition, with dullness and inability to speak properly; of how the teeth become covered with a coating (because of not swallowing and using the mouth); and the appearance of little dark (greenish) hemorrhages on the skin.
As the condition goes on:
“Later he picks at the bed clothes, grasps at imaginary objects in the air, or lies perfectly motionless, with the exception of an occasional attempt, even in his stupor, to shift into a comfortable position, to find a softer place in the bed. Finally, the jaw drops, the sphincters relax, the respiration becomes loud and blowing and complete unconsciousness ends in death.”
[From Harvey Farrington MD, Homeopathy and Homeopathic Prescribing: A Study Course for the Graduate Physician, 1955.]
Much of this we could see in an animal — the fever, the developing weakness (prostration), the sluggish, sleepy state (stupor), the making feeble sounds (the muttering). The frequent and persistent attempt to shift positions will be seen, as well as the final paralysis of the lower jaw, loud breathing, leakage or urine and stool (relaxation of the sphincters) and finally death.
Do you get a sense of how the veterinarian can recognize this remedy in an animal? However, this still does not exhaust the range of Arnica. Next time, let’s continue to investigate what other clinical conditions it can be used for.