We’re all affected by pain to different degrees in our daily lives. If you’re lucky, it’s just the occasional headache or muscle cramp. If you’re unlucky, it comes in the form of persistent, chronic pain such as backache or an old injury that was never the same again.
Along with pain comes inflammation – designed as your body’s defence and healing mechanism, it’s responsible for redness, swelling and throbbing pain. Nowadays we’re quick to reach for a pharmaceutical solution – and they do work brilliantly, however there’s a natural alternative worth considering. I’ve written this how to guide on using essential oils for pain and inflammation to help you learn more.
How do Pain and Inflammation Work?
We all know what pain feels like, but let me explain a little more about how it comes about and the function it serves. Pain is a warning signal from your nerve endings. It gets your attention and lets you know something is wrong. It can range from very mild to excruciating.
There are many different types of pain with many different causes. Acute pain (e.g. a headache, sports injury or cramp) has a shorter duration whereas chronic pain (arthritis, back pain or long term illness) can last a lifetime.
Inflammation goes hand in hand with pain. When you have an injury or your body notices something out-of-the-ordinary, it begins to send extra blood with defensive immune cells to the area. This causes swelling, redness, heat and throbbing. It also involves the nerve endings, resulting in pain.
Why Use Essential Oils for Pain & Inflammation?
Modern medicine has provided a quick and easily accessible solution for minor pain and inflammation. You probably have some paracetamol (painkiller) or ibuprofen (anti-inflammatory and painkiller) in your cupboard. If not, it’s available at your local pharmacy or even supermarket at a moment’s notice.
However these magic pills don’t come without side effects. If you use them very frequently, you may end up with liver damage over the long term. You can also experience rebound headaches and ibuprofen in particular can cause stomach ulcers. So, personally, I try to use natural remedies wherever possible.
Side effects with essential oils are non-existent when used correctly. Not only that but they are cheaper than drugs and provide a more holistic solution. Of course, I’m not saying ditch your painkillers, but use them sparingly – only when the pain is severe and the natural methods have failed.
Essential Oils for Pain & Inflammation
1. Peppermint Oil
L-menthol is a compound naturally present in peppermint and similar plants. This is what gives peppermint oil it’s painkilling and anti-inflammatory properties. It has a cooling effect which, much like applying an ice pack, relieves pain and moderates inflammation. You’ll often find peppermint as a component of muscle rubs for sporting aches.
2. Rosemary Oil
An animal study published in the “Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin” showed that rosmarinic acid prevented inflammation (source). Beta-caryophyllene is another component of rosemary oil which may also be effective at alleviating pain.
3. Cayenne Pepper Oil
Cayenne pepper oil (and most spicy peppers) contain capsaicin – a compound which imparts a warming effect. Like a heating pad, this can help reduce pain when applied topically.
4. Chamomile Oil
Chamomile is widely known for its relaxant and sedative effect. It doesn’t just help you sleep but also relaxes tense and painful muscles, easing pain.
5. Lavender Oil
Lavender is another oil with relaxing and sedative effects. A study found that when used in an acupressure treatment, lavender oil helped reduce lower back pain by 39%. It smells great too!
6. Eucalyptus Oil
This Australian tree packs a powerful punch when it comes to healing properties. It’s antibacterial and antifungal, it soothes congestion and is also suggested to have pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties.
7. Ginger Oil
Ginger oil has components which inhibit the chemical signalers involved in pain. A study was conducted among elderly people with chronic knee pain. Studies have found that massage with ginger oil decreased pain, stiffness, swelling and pain.
8. Thyme Oil
Thyme oil contains carvacrol, a compound believed to be responsible for its anti-inflammatory effects. It acts in a similar manner to many pharmaceutical drugs – reducing enzymes involved in inflammation by up to 75%
9. Fennel Oil
Fennel oil contains anethole, which may be responsible for its anti-inflammatory properties. Animal studies have shown that fennel oil helped with menstrual discomfort. It has an antispasmodic effect, i.e. it relaxes muscle spasms which can be the source of many types of pain.
10. Wintergreen Oil
The wintergreen plant contains a natural form of aspirin. It’s not surprising that it was used historically as a tonic for pain.
How to Use Essential Oils for Pain & Inflammation
For a headache, mix 4 drops of essential oil with 1 tablespoon of carrier oil and massage into your temples for around 5 minutes. Alternatively, you can use a few drops of oil on a cloth by your bed, or a diffuser or aromatherapy burner to inhale the vapour of the oil.
For aching muscles, add a few drops of oil to a bath and soak for 30 minutes. The warm water will enhance the pain relief and anti-inflammatory effect.
Massage is always a great solution for pain as it stimulates healing blood flow to the affected area. If you can reach the painful spot, massage for around 10 minutes with diluted essential oil (10 drops essential oil to 1oz carrier oil). If you can find a willing volunteer to massage you, even better.
Using a hot or cold compress is a common remedy for pain. You can improve the effect with essential oils. Take a pint of hot or cold water and add 4 drops of essential oil. Use this mixture to heat or cool your compress, squeezing out excess before use. (source)
Most essential oils can cause irritation if used undiluted. Never apply neat oil directly to the skin. Always read the label on the oil before using for any specific precautions and mix with a carrier (e.g. coconut or olive oil) as recommended. Never allow essential oil to come into contact with your eyes.
Some essential oils are not suitable for pregnant women or people with certain medical conditions.
Always check with your doctor if this applies to you, and avoid these remedies if unsure.Always look for high quality essential oils from reputable sources – there are fakes out there. Not only will a fake oil not produce any health benefits, it may cause irritation or allergic reaction.
I hope this guide has helped inform you about using essential oils for pain and inflammation. What I love most about these natural remedies is the holistic effect. You’re not just popping a pill and continuing as normal. Using essential oils forces you to take some time out to relax and focus on healing – that in itself is a positive factor.