I am not generally that big on lotions and potions. Few things truly work as well as they should, and even fewer come without significant side effects. For scar therapy, you can’t argue with the data on silicone and sunblock. But for the other nemesis of cosmetic surgery, unsightly and uncomfortable swelling, there is Arnica.
Arnica is a homeopathic medicine derived from a plant whose mechanism is not well understood. What is well understood is that it has an impressive ability to limit swelling, bruising, and pain after physical stress. Many athletes routinely take it to help ease the burn after a strong workout. Today, Arnica Montana is a mainstay of plastic and aesthetic surgery.
While we are not sure exactly how it does it, Arnica can do many things. It can speed up healing, relieve pain, decrease the pressure and discomfort felt by swelling, limit inflammation, and in fact fight infection. The two chemicals it may work on are called helenalin and dihyrdohelanin- two potent warriors that attack inflammatory cells, bacteria, and even some cancers. There are rare reported side effects from it, and most people do experience a significant benefit from its use. Furthermore, it’s cheap, easy to use, and at this point easy to find.
So why doesn’t every surgeon use it? Among plastic surgeons, Arnica is a frequent flyer. Because so much of what we do is elective, we have the benefit of presurgical planning. But the medical world is beginning to hear our cry, and fortunately gentle remedies like these are taking hold. Coupled with Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple juice that decreases inflammatory prostaglandins, Arnica is indeed becoming very popular in head and neck surgery and some orthopedics.
Now before you run out there to stock up, remember that ,as a general rule, self medicating is a bad idea. Don’t take anything without discussing it with all of your doctors. Many people do not realize that all these over the counter “vitamins” and “herbs” are indeed drugs. They too come from plants, they too can have side effects, they too are not for everyone, and they too can interact with other substances. Keep perspective and keep it simple. And with the right homeopathy on board, you’ll also keep it cool.