Essential oils have been used for centuries to relieve a variety of conditions, pain and inflammation. Many essential oils have similar, and sometimes more effective, pain-relieving properties than many prescription or over-the-counter analgesics.
There are many benefits to using essential oils to get relief from pain and inflammation. For example, essential oils have fewer side effects than many modern drugs and they also help to soothe your mind and make you feel more relaxed. So, essential oils play an important role in pain management and in treating many inflammatory conditions.
If you suffer from chronic pain associated with arthritis, lower back pain, migraines, fibromyalgia, nerve pain or sciatica, then essential oils are excellent home remedies to treat the pain.
While you can use any of these oils on their own, it is also beneficial to blend some of them together. Don’t initially apply essential oils directly to the skin, but dilute them first with a carrier oil such as olive oil, jojoba oil, or sweet almond oil to help detect and/or reduce allergies to the oils. Start with one essential oil at a time if you are new to oils before creating blends to help determine any allergies. If using a “hot” oil, diluting the site of application if it begins to burn or become irritated with olive oil will help stop the reaction. Many essential oils have photosensitivity – that means that after use on the skin and exposure to sun can cause burns or rashes. Photosensitive oil use on exposed skin should be followed with sunscreen, or keep applied areas out of direct sunlight for 48 hours after application. It is important that you do your homework about the oils you are going to use to prevent injury.
While some essential oils are safe for internal use, unless you know what you are taking or putting into your mouth or applying to mucous membranes, you should not use essential oils internally.
Not all essential oil companies are the same. While most report “100% pure unadulterated oils”, it is important to know the company you buy your oils from. There are no guidelines or FDA regulations of what can be added to the oil, the concentration of the oil to the carrier oils it is mixed with, or added aromas etc. Do your homework! Some companies are multi-level marketing companies (i.e., you need to buy the oils from a salesperson instead of directly from the company), and some allow for direct consumer purchase. A few of the companies with solid reputations for quality and purity include: Young Living, doTERRA, Ananda Apothecary, Original Swiss Aromatics.
Not all essential oils are safe and some have very specific indications or ways to use them; and when used improperly can cause injury or pain, and even harm to unborn fetuses. Some oils are not safe for babies or children; and some may be used in significantly smaller amounts.
For headache – blend 4-6 drops of essential oil with one tablespoon of a carrier oil and apply a small amount of the mixture to the temples and on the back of your neck in your hairline; massage gently. Make sure to stay away from the eyes. Headache can also be relieved by smelling the oil: sprinkle a few drops of the oil onto a cloth or tissue, or use an aromatherapy diffuser or vaporizer.
Bath soak – good to soothe tired, aching muscles, relieve arthritis and rheumatism. Put a few drops of essential oil in a hot bath (you can also add 2-3 cups of Epsom salt to enhance the effect). It’s a good idea to mix the essential oil drops in a small amount of carrier oil first and then add to the bath. Remember that being in a warm/hot bath opens up the pores of the skin and adds to the absorption of the essential oils – thus you do not need a lot of oils in your bath water!
Massage oil – use about 10 drops of essential oil per 1 ounce of carrier oil and massage this oil blend into any body part where your muscles are sore.
Various Pain Relieving Essential Oils (This is not an all inclusive list):
Lavender oil is relaxing, pain relieving and antimicrobial. Inhaling the vapors; either directly from the bottle, or diffused into the air through the use of a diffuser; relieves stress and helps reduce muscle tension, both of which increase pain levels. It can also help ease pain due to tension or migraine headaches, either by inhaling the vapors or by placing one drop of oil on the temples.
Lavender used in the bath is also very helpful for stress and muscle and joint pain. Used at bedtime it can help you to fall asleep, and to get better quality sleep. Studies have shown that poor sleep increases pain levels, and improving the quality and amount of sleep you get will help reduces those levels. (In combination with chamomile, there is an increased benefit for sleep, stress reduction and pain relief.)
Chamomile is a highly effective anti-inflammatory. It’s used for headaches, muscular and low-back pain, neuralgia, and TMJ; as well as PMS and stress that causes digestive problems. It is especially effective blended with lavender, although it works well in blends with many other oils as well. There are several types of chamomile. Some are not indicated for internal use, and others are safe. Roman Chamomile: Relieves stress and anxiety and offers anti-inflammatory, relaxant and detoxifying benefits.
Clary sage is especially useful in massage oils for relieving muscle spasms, muscle aches and cramping; but should be used in very small amounts. Clary sage should never be used with alcohol or before a night when you plan to have cocktails or a glass of wine, since it increases the effect of all alcoholic beverages and can be dangerous. Used with chamomile, it is very effective for PMS and menstrual difficulties.
Juniper essential oil has many uses, but the ones most relevant to pain relief are its antispasmodic and antirheumatic properties. Applied in a cream or lotion, juniper will help reduce muscle spasms, as well as the muscle and joint aches and pains associated with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and similar illnesses. Juniper also strengthens the nerves, and may also be helpful in neuropathic pain with regular use. Because juniper also has stimulant properties, it should be used early in the day, and not near bedtime as it could interfere with the ability to fall asleep. Has antispasmodic properties.
Eucalyptus oil has similar properties to juniper, being analgesic and anti-inflammatory when used topically. It can be used as a cream or lotion massaged into painful areas, or in the bath as a bath salt or oil. It is recommended for the treatment of muscular aches and pains, strains and/or sprains, and nerve pain. It also works well in combination with other essential oils such as lavender, but should be used with care since large amounts can be toxic. There are many forms of eucalyptus and are not all used for the same purposes or age groups. Do your research.
Rosemary oil is helpful for headaches as well as for muscle and joint pain. It is also used to enhance mental alertness, concentration, and memory; and has an antidepressant effect as well. It blends well with lavender, chamomile, peppermint, and clary sage; but should not be used by pregnant or breast-feeding women.
Cools and calms the mind with additional anti-inflammatory, gallbladder and pain relieving benefits. Peppermint oil is especially useful for headaches, including migraine. This is rather odd, since eating peppermint is a known migraine trigger for many, and can intensify the pain of a migraine that you already have. For headache, 4 drops of peppermint oil can be blended with one tablespoon of a carrier oil like olive or jojoba oil. Apply a small amount of this blend to the temples, staying well away from the eyes, and massage in gently. (Adding a few drops of lavender and/or one or two drops of rosemary oil can enhance the effect.) This is a “hot” oil.
Its anti-spasmodic and stimulating properties make it an excellent addition to massage blends for relieving fatigue and muscle relaxation, particularly in combination with Black Pepper oil.
Wintergreen is extensively used in pain relieving formulas, as its chemical makeup is essentially that of liquid aspirin. The plant has been used for respiratory conditions such as chronic mucous discharge, but is mainly employed for joint and muscular pain relief from conditions such as lumbago, sciatica, neuralgia, gout, fibromyalgia, etc. Wintergreen is often added to liniments and ointments to help ease muscle and joint pains. Along with its analgesic effects, Wintergreen also has anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, antitussive, astringent, carminative, diuretic, emmenagogue, galactagogue and stimulant properties. Wintergreen is often included in formulas to open the breathing passages; deep inhalation of its bright aroma can clear the sinuses and stimulate the mind.
Black pepper can be great support in warming liniment formulas – for aches and pains, along with poor circulation in muscles and joints; it is thought to combine well with Basil oil for this application. It is included in many massage blends to support increase blood flow.
Clove Essential Oil has the highest anti-oxidant capability of any essential oil, perhaps one of the highest known for a food or supplement (read cautions before ingesting). Clove essential oil is strongly antimicrobial, antiseptic, hemostatic and anti-inflammatory. Clove is also commonly used for numbing tooth pain, and may be effective in speeding the healing of mouth and gum sores. It is included in blends for joint pain, for its analgesic and warming properties. Clove oil can also be used to assist breaking of tobacco addiction by placing a drop on the tongue with one’s finger. Improves memory and assists healing with anti-aging, arthritis and rheumatism benefits.
Sandalwood can be added to skin care formulas — it has a wonderful aroma, enjoyed by both men and women, and helps hydrate dry skin. Small amounts can be worn ‘neat’ (undiluted) upon retiring for the evening to reap its potential sleep-enhancing effects. This may be an excellent way of enjoying its stress reducing, or anxiolytic action, as well. Encourages relaxation with additional antidepressant benefits. One of sandalwood’s most important uses is to sedate the nervous system, so it helps to reduce nerve pain.
Arnica – Arnica has a long history of use as a topical analgesic and anti-inflammatory. Arnica is typically found in balms, creams and oils at homeopathic concentrations — that’s typically exceptionally small amounts that special devices are used to measure. To use this oil properly in your recipes, utilize only 1/2% to a maximum of 1%. This is 6 to 12 drops per total ounce of your formula. Please note: It is not intended for use in aromatic applications, only topical ones. A study presented in the journal of Rheumatol International, noted arnica containing gel as effective as topical ibuprofen for treatment of arthritic symptoms.
Copaiba Balsam oil
It is used for its anti-inflammatory, antifungal and pain-relieving properties, particularly for skin conditions such as athlete’s foot, eczema, psoriasis, and simple wound healing. The oil can also be used in a carrier oil as a chest rub for coughs and colds, or in a steam bath for the same purpose.
This essential oil is quite expensive and valued for its pain relief properties. It has anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and analgesic properties. It helps to relieve arthritis pain and supports the nervous system. Pain relief reported by most users happens nearly instantly – certainly within minutes of application.
Palo Santo oil has many applications. Wear a drop on the wrists or diffuse in small amounts for aromatic and energetic uses. Palo Santo is beneficial for the skin, particularly in healing, cleansing and anti-aging formulas. It can also be used in recipes for arthritis and joint care. It is also used for care of respiratory ailments and immune system support. Helps with inflammation.
Fir Needle Oils (Balsam, Douglas, etc.)
Fir oil is also indicated as an analgesic, and can be diluted in a carrier oil for massage in cases of arthritis, muscular aches and pains, and rheumatism. Eases sore muscles, joints, tendons and back pain. It has been included in some cough and cold remedies, and may act as an expectorant
Other traditional uses of Spruce Essential Oil are: Topical application for muscular aches and pains, poor circulation and rheumatism. Spruce Oil has also been used to improve breathing conditions of asthma, bronchitis, coughs and general weakness. Soothes arthritis, rheumatism, back pain, sciatica and bone pain.
Sweet Marjoram oil is perhaps most commonly used in formulas for muscular and rheumatic pain, sprains, strains, bruises and stiff joints. For this purpose, it can be included in massage-type blends at a 5% concentration and applied as frequently as desired. It is also highly recommended as a nerve tonic, again it may be diluted in a carrier oil and rubbed into the temples or the chest, allowing the aroma to be inhaled over time.
Keeps the mind alert and can help with muscle soreness. Rosemary is an excellent tonic for the body’s yang energy making it one of the most valuable and invigorating of essences. By promoting the circulation of both Qi-energy and blood, Rosemary is an excellent tonic for the muscles and can be used to relieve stiffness, cramping, and pain. Energizing to the Qi-energy of the Heart, Rosemary essential oil may help to strengthen the heartbeat and to encourage arterial blood-flow. The warming action of Rosemary helps to relieve both mental and physical fatigue and to benefit those with low blood pressure as well as cold hands and feet. Expectorant in action, Rosemary may be used for cold, catarrhal coughs and bronchitis.
The carminative properties of Thyme make it an effective treatment for stomach upsets. It may also increase the propensity of white blood cells, perhaps increasing the power of the immune system. Also, by possibly helping to eliminate excess uric acid from the body, conditions like gout, sciatica, arthritis, and rheumatism can be more easily combated. Thyme essential oil may valuable as a local application to neuralgic & rheumatic aches and pains. Thyme oil can be a stimulant for the digestive system, helping to eliminate worms, reduce gastric infections, and ease dyspepsia. Thyme is also good for headaches caused from gastric complaints. Thyme Oil may be good for the scalp, helping to treat dandruff and hair loss. Dermatitis, wounds, boils and carbuncles may also be diminished with this essential oil. This is a very hot oil – caution when using undiluted.
Vetiver is an ancient remedy within Ayurveda – the root and its essential oil are used to alleviate thirst, heatstroke, fevers and headache. The essential oil is applied as part of a liniment to relive inflammatory disorders of the joints and skin, and may be used for rheumatoid arthritis and eczema. Other well-known traditional uses for Vetiver oil include application for arthritis symptoms due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Vetiver oil may also be useful acne, anxiety, insomnia and depression.
Ginger has a long history of healing for its warming, digestion stimulating properties. In Chinese medicine, it is specified as a warming herb with affinity for the lungs and the intestines. In Ayurvedic cooking, it is added to dishes to enhance a meal’s digestability. Interestingly, ginger essential oil has been noted to assist other essential oils in reaching their target organs. Ginger oil is traditionally used to alleviate motion sickness, and can be used as a general digestive tonic for upset stomachs. In the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, it is specifically indicated for flatulent intestinal colic. Ginger essential oil has also been indicated for improvement of circulation in the joints and muscles, possibly helping arthritis, rheumatism and general aches and pains. It may be added to almost any massage blend for this purpose; its relative strength allows for low concentrations. Can ease back pain and improves mobility. Can be used to treat arthritic and rheumatic pain, muscle pain and sprains.
A powerful restorative and analgesic pain reliever with powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Good for muscle and joint aches and pains.
Other topical pain relievers – Choices in Topical Therapy for Pain Relief
Consider these three main types of pain medication applied to the skin:
Local anesthetics. These are medications that numb painful areas for short periods of time. They have a variety of uses. Lidocaine patches, for example, can help to relieve the burning, stabbing, chronic ache that may occur after a shingles infection — a condition called post-herpetic neuralgia. Dentists may also use a topical anesthetic on the gums to help ease the pain of an injection. Some topical local anesthetics are also available over the counter in spray and gel form to treat the sting of a sunburn.
Pain medications. Medications applied to the skin include drugs such as the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac (Solaraze, Pennsaid), which works by reducing inflammation in a localized area of the body, or aspirin creams, which work by blocking substances in the body that cause pain. Alternatively, these topical medications may contain narcotic pain relievers, such as fentanyl. Though some of these topical pain relievers (Aspercreme, BenGay) are available over the counter, some are dispensed by prescription only.
Counter-irritants. These are products that contain substances such as menthol, eucalyptus, or oil of wintergreen that irritate nerve endings, producing a “cool” feeling on the skin and distracting the brain from deeper sources of pain. Vicks VapoRub is an example of a counter-irritant.
Topical Therapy for Pain Relief Cautions – Not everyone is a good candidate for topical therapy for pain relief. People who are allergic to the adhesives on patches, for example, should avoid them. Anyone who is sensitive to the active ingredient in an oral pain reliever should not try it in topical form either. People with kidney problems or failure should not use an ibuprofen cream. Do not use topical pain relievers on infected skin or skin with open sores. It is possible to apply too much and potentially overdose. There will be specific directions on the patch or cream — a specific amount of cream you can apply or a certain number of patches you can use. Always follow these directions.
Salonpas patches, creams, gels