Arnica and bromelain, two of the most widely recommended homeopathic medications to improve perioperative outcomes, have yet to be widely adopted by allopathic practitioners. A significant barrier to utilization of herbal medications by allopathic doctors is that the preparations and dosing regimens are not widely known or understood. The goal of this review was to critically analyze studies that have examined the perioperative efficacy of arnica and bromelain with a focus on treatment regimen and outcomes.
A triple database search was conducted with the keywords “arnica,” “bromelain,” and “surgery.” References for each identified article were analyzed for additional articles. Articles were analyzed for methodology, outcomes, and conclusion. Articles were excluded if they did not involve human subjects, were published before 1990, and if they were not available in English. Level of evidence was determined based on methodology.
A total of 29 articles met inclusion criteria, with 20 and 9 in the arnica and bromelain treatment groups, respectively. There was marked heterogeneity with regard to surgical procedure, dosing regimen, outcomes measured, and results. Arnica seems to have a mitigating effect on ecchymosis, most notably following rhinoplasty and facelifts/facial procedures. Bromelain is well supported across numerous studies in reducing trismus, pain, and swelling following molar extractions. However, there was no effect demonstrated when evaluating topical arnica following blepharoplasty procedures.
A systematic review of the literature demonstrates the potential for arnica and bromelain to improve perioperative outcomes including edema, ecchymosis, and pain control. Future studies are required to determine safety and efficacy of dosing and interactions with other medications. We hope this article stimulates surgeons to consider using these interventions to improve perioperative outcomes in the context of well-done studies with an objective analysis of results.