Your Breast Surgery Recovery: Using Arnica To Minimize Bruising and Swelling
When I was anticipating my lumpectomy in 2004, I consulted a friend who was a trained naturopath and she strongly recommended that I start taking homeopathic arnica 2-3 days prior to my surgery and continuing for 5 days post-surgery to minimize the pain, bruising and swelling. She said it also helped to recover from anesthesia.
I took her advice and was very happy I did. I found arnica to be extremely effective for post-surgical bruising and swelling. So was my plastic surgeon – in fact, he was so impressed, he thereafter began recommending it to his patients and had it sitting in a prominent place on his reception desk!
What Is Arnica?
Arnica montana is a perennial herb found (according to Wikipedia) widely distributed throughout North America, in Europe from southern Iberia to southern Scandinavia and the Carpathian mountains, and all the way to Siberia. For some reason, it doesn’t grow in the United Kingdom, in Italy or in the Balkan region.
Arnica’s favorite habitat is nutrient-poor meadows, moors and heaths and grows as high as 9,800 feet above sea level (3,000 metres). The flowers and roots are used in herbal medicine and homeopathic remedies, typically in remedies applied directly to the skin.
How Arnica Helps
The active components of Arnica montana include sesquiterpene lactones and flavonoids which are known to reduce inflammation and ease pain. It also contains thymol, an infection-fighting essential oil, and carotenoid, a powerful antioxidant.
The proposed method of action is by stimulation of white blood cells and dispersion of fluids that accumulate around surgical sites. The cumulative effect is a boost in immunity, acceleration of healing and anti-inflammation. The thymol component also helps the body combat bacterial infection, which is important when you’re sitting in a hospital working on breast surgery recovery.
Several studies have found Arnica montana to be no more effective than a placebo in relieving pain, swelling, and bruising. Maybe they were not using the proper strengths – who knows?
For myself, I found it to be extremely effective and everyone I’ve recommended it to felt similarly. Homeopaths have used arnica for more than 200 years to treat injuries, in particular swelling and bruising, with great results.
I did find some positive studies:
(1) In a 2007 study of 190 adults having their tonsils removed, scientists discovered that those taking a homeopathic dilution of arnica had a small but significant decrease in pain compared to patients assigned to a placebo. Robertson A, Suryanarayanan R, Banerjee A. “Homeopathic Arnica montana for post-tonsillectomy analgesia: a randomised placebo control trial.” Homeopathy 2007 96(1):17-21.
(2) A 2002 study of 37 people undergoing surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome found that taking a homeopathic dilution of arnica and applying arnica ointment also produced a significant decrease in post-surgery pain. Jeffrey SL, Belcher HJ. “Use of Arnica to relieve pain after carpal-tunnel release surgery.” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 2002 8(2):66-8.
(3) A 2006 study of 29 patients undergoing face-lifts found that patients taking perioperative homeopathic arnica montana exhibited less bruising. Seeley BM, Denton AB, Ahn MS, Maas CS. “Effect of homeopathic Arnica montana on bruising in face-lifts: results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Arch Facial Plast Surg. 2006 Jan-Feb;8(1):54-9.
I strongly recommend that you consult a trained naturopath or homeopath to get the dosage correct for YOU. Having said that, I do have a homeopathic protocol that comes highly recommended:
Homeopathic Arnica Protocol
- Three days prior to surgery take one dose of Arnica 30C
- Two days prior to surgery take Arnica 30C two times per day
- One day prior to surgery take Arnica 30C three times per day
- On the day of surgery take Arnica 30C four times before surgery commences.
- Post-surgery take Arnica 30C every 15 minutes as soon as possible in recovery during the first hour.
- After the first hour repeat Arnica 30C every hour for the duration of the day.
- One day post-op take Arnica 30C every four hours for the duration of the day.
- Day two post-op take Arnica 30C four times per day.
- Day three post-op take Arnica 30C three times per day.
- Day four post-op take Arnica 30C two times per day.
- Day five post-op take Arnica 30C one time per day and continue until full recovery.