Essential Oils for Relieving Pain

March 28, 2019 at 3:41 PM

In my previous article “Reduce Toxins and Support Your Health with Essential Oils”, I discussed how essential oils can offer a variety of benefits and have been gaining popularity as a natural, safe and cost-effective approach to supporting a number of health concerns. With successful use dating back thousands of years, they not only provide pleasant and distinct aromas, they can also assist in reducing pain and inflammation.

It’s easy to be sceptical about the effectiveness of essential oils when it comes to mental or physical health issues, especially as so many companies promote them as a cure-all. There is, however, increasingly more scientific evidence to support the use of essential oils for overall health, including pain relief and reducing inflammation. This is especially important as chronic inflammation (your body's immune response to stress and physical discomfort) can lead to many health conditions, including chronic pain. When this happens, it can be very helpful to both eliminate or include certain foods in your diet, as well as incorporate supplements, herbs, and essential oils with anti-inflammatory properties into your daily routine.

As far as pain and inflammation are concerned, there is a wide range of remedies that can be as simple as a few diet and lifestyle changes, to as complex as clinical mediation and medical management. In recent years, people have been turning to more holistic, and long-established natural remedies as they are often easier for the body to assimilate, non-dependency forming, work both preventatively and correctively and are often more cost-effective than the alternative which can include pharmaceuticals and prescription medication, or even hospitalization and surgery.

Essential oils are used in many different ways including inhalation (smelling them), topically on the part of the body experiencing the issue, in massage, or on reflex points that correspond to various body systems. In some cases, and with proper instruction, they can even be taken internally by drinking them or putting them in capsules to swallow.* One of the reasons essential oils are so effective is because they don’t require digestion to release their healing compounds, but absorb directly into the bloodstream through any of the three methods explained above.

 

With more than 15,000 medical research studies on essential oils that provide evidence of therapeutic support, the health benefits of essential oils aren’t just anecdotal. Among these are studies establishing the therapeutic benefits for acute and chronic pain as well as anxiety and stress, which have been linked to pain and inflammation.

 

Some of the most successful essential oil treatments include (but are not limited to):

General pain relief: wintergreen, peppermint, ginger

Inflammation: frankincense, copaiba, helichrysum

Head tension: peppermint, lavender

Joint pain and function: peppermint, marjoram, lemongrass, cypress and copaiba

Muscle pain: peppermint, wintergreen, copaiba

Circulation: ginger, helichrysum, clove, wintergreen

Relaxation and stress relief: lavender, chamomile, valerian, vetiver, cedarwood

Energy: peppermint, spearmint, citrus oils (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, bergamot)

Immune support (and defence against viral, bacterial and fungal infections): clove, lemon, oregano, eucalyptus, manuka, tea tree

 

And although most essential oils provide many benefits for multiple body systems, these are the top 8 when treating pain and inflammation:

 

1. Peppermint: research suggests peppermint oil is effective in managing digestive upset and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, which can include bloating and abdominal pain. It has also been used successfully for treating tension headaches and is frequently used for many pain conditions because it is cooling and has anti-inflammatory properties. When used topically, and layered over other oils, peppermint also acts to facilitate deeper absorption of any oils applied underneath it.

 

2. Wintergreen: according to webmd.com, wintergreen oil is used for pain conditions including “headache, nerve pain (particularly sciatica), arthritis, ovarian pain, and menstrual cramps. It is also used for digestion problems including stomach ache and gas (flatulence); lung conditions including asthma and pleurisy; pain and swelling (inflammation); fever; and kidney problems. …applied to the skin, [it acts] as a “counterirritant” to relieve muscle pain… by causing irritation that reduces pain and swelling in the underlying tissue.”

Wintergreen is among few of the world’s plants that contain high amounts of methyl salicylate, which contains pain-relieving qualities similar to aspirin. Its therapeutic properties make it effective for relieving muscle and joint pain.

 

3. Clove: derived from the plant’s flower bud, clove oil has been used for centuries as an analgesic (pain reliever). It has been shown to stimulate healthy circulation and metabolism, both of which help to speed up the healing process. It’s anti-inflammatory and anaesthetic properties also assist in relieving various types of pain.

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PanAway, a blend of pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory oils from Young Living, includes a powerful combination of wintergreen, helichrysum, clove, and peppermint oils. 


4. Frankincense: extracted from the gum resin of Boswellia trees, this essential oil has impressive anti-inflammatory properties. It has also been found to be an effective remedy for stress and anxiety and pain related to those.

 

5. Ginger: derived from the ginger root, Ginger has been valued for thousands of years for its medicinal and culinary properties. Ginger oil contains zingibain, an anti-inflammatory that works to relax muscles and relieve pain, and swelling. As it helps to relax the smooth muscles in the digestive tract, is it also effective in aiding in digestion.

 

6. Copaiba: tapped from the resin (sap) of the copaiba tree found in the Amazon rainforest, copaiba oil has both analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, which have been shown to reduce the body’s natural response to pain, including joint pain and inflammation.

 

7. Eucalyptus: extracted from the leaves of the eucalyptus (‘gum’) tree, eucalyptus oil has healing powers long recognized by native peoples, including anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and antiseptic properties, which provide significant relief from muscle and joint pain.

Besides its uses for pain relief, it’s wide-ranging antimicrobial benefits also make it one of the best essential oils for sinus and respiratory congestion, coughs, sore throats, seasonal allergies and headaches due to its ability to stimulate immunity and provide antioxidant protection.

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R.C. (abbreviated from Respiratory Congestion), a blend of pain-relieving and anti-oxidant oils from Young Living, includes a powerful combination of three different types of eucalyptus, myrtle, marjoram, pine, cypress, spruce, peppermint and lavender oils. 

 

8. Lavender: best known for assisting with more restful sleep and anxiety relief, is also useful for pain and headache relief. One study in 2012 found that inhaling lavender essential oil helped to relieve headache pain in research participants as it has both anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain relieving) properties.

 

As they are easier for the body to ‘recognize’ than many synthetic pharmaceutical compounds, and are non-dependency forming, it’s often the first line of treatment for individuals trying to avoid prescription medication. And since they are gentle on the body, and smell wonderful, why not give them a try the next time you have an ache or inflammation.

 

Safety, Usage and Precautions

Be aware that not all essential oils are created equal. In fact, some synthetic versions or those extracted through objectionable means can cause harm to your health. Essential oils are a non-regulated industry, meaning anyone can label an oil ‘pure’. Always seek a reputable company that conducts third-party testing of their oils and only sells Pure Therapeutic Grade essential oils, such as our supplier, Young Living.

 

Women who are pregnant or nursing should avoid certain essential oils and should consult with a medical professional (preferably one who has experience with essential oils) before using them.

 

As for choosing the location of treatment, as a rule of thumb, you can apply the oils directly on or near the painful area. For example, you can apply peppermint oil to the temples and back of the neck for a headache, or copaiba oil to the ankle for an inflamed ankle joint. Knowing a bit about Reflexology can also help as areas on the soles of the feet, palms of the hand, and even your ears, correspond to different body systems so applying the oil on the reflexology point can be just as effective in targeting a particular body ache.

 

For topical use, because they are so concentrated, adding essential oils to a ‘carrier’ oil (such as coconut oil, jojoba oil, or even olive oil) can help dilute the strength for use with children or pets, and also increase the spreadability over large body areas, helping you get more out of that bottle. It is always wise to research and follow the recommended doses, rules for dilution, and methods for use.

 

A general dilution ratio is typically 1-2 drops of essential oil to one teaspoon of carrier oil. Start by using several small applications throughout the day instead of one large single dose application. It is also recommended that individuals do a skin patch test to make sure they are not overly sensitive to the oil.

 

* Many of the essential oils mentioned above are highly concentrated. This can be very beneficial as a little goes a long way, but because they can cause mild irritation or even toxicity when taken in large quantities it is best to be cautious and conservative when ingesting.

 

For more information, email Tara at practicemanager@aucklandphysiotherapy.co.nz to schedule a call.

 

Tara Germain