Can Essential Oils Act As Pain Relievers?
Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT — Written by Emily Cronkleton — Updated on June 5, 2020
Why use essential oils?
If medications aren’t easing your pain, you might be interested in finding alternative remedies for relief. Essential oils may be one natural way to relieve pain.
Essential oils are highly fragrant substances found within the petals, stems, roots, and other parts of plants. They’re typically removed from the plant though steam distillation.
The oils resulting from this centuries-old technique may improve physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. Each type of oil has its own unique scent and benefits. These oils can be used individually or as blends.
Researchers have found evidence to suggest that certain oils may treat the symptoms of certain ailments, such as:
More research is needed to fully understand how essentials oils can work for pain management. Although there’s generally no harm in adding essential oils to your current pain management plan, and they might allow you to reduce dosages of prescriptions.
What the research says
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate essential oils. This means that essential oil products can vary in purity, strength, and quality across manufacturers. Be sure to only purchase essential oils from reputable brands.
Essential oils can be inhaled or applied topically when mixed with a carrier oil. Never apply undiluted essential oils directly to the skin. Do not swallow essential oils. Do a skin patch test before applying diluted essential oils to your skin.
The following essential oils may help with pain relief.
According to a 2013 study, lavender essential oil may help treat pain in children after a tonsillectomy. Children who inhaled the scent of lavender were able to reduce their daily dose of acetaminophen post-surgery.
Researchers in a 2015 studyTrusted Source found that lavender essential oil can be an effective analgesic and anti-inflammatory. When diluted lavender essential oil was applied topically during one test, it provided pain relief comparable to that of the prescription medication tramadol. This suggests that lavender could be used to help treat pain and any associated inflammation.
Another studyTrusted Source in 2012 tested lavender essential oil’s ability to reduce pain in people who experience migraines. Results showed that inhaling the scent of lavender was effective in lessening the severity of migraine headache symptoms.
Many women experience abdominal cramping during menstruation. Rose essential oil aromatherapy has been shown to relieve pain associated with periods when paired with conventional treatment.
Research from 2013Trusted Source suggests that rose oil aromatherapy may also be effective in alleviating pain caused by kidney stones when coupled with conventional therapy.
Bergamot essential oil aromatherapy is being used to treat neuropathic pain, which is often resistant to opioid pain medications. The results of a 2015 study found this therapy to be successful in reducing neuropathic pain.
Essential oil blends
Researchers in a 2012 study found a blend of essential oils to be effective in decreasing menstrual pain in terms of severity and duration. Participants used a cream containing lavender, clary sage, and marjoram to massage their lower bellies daily.
According to another studyTrusted Source in 2013, an essential oil blend was successful in reducing discomfort and menstrual bleeding. Participants were massaged with a blend of cinnamon, clove, rose, and lavender in sweet almond oil. They were massaged once daily for seven days before their periods.
Another studyTrusted Source showed the potential of an essential oil blend to lessen pain and reduce depression in people with terminal cancer. These participants had their hands massaged with bergamot, lavender, and frankincense in sweet almond oil.
How to use essential oils for pain relief
Be sure to use a carrier oil to dilute your chosen essential oil. Applying an undiluted essential oil can cause skin irritation and inflammation.
Common carrier oils include:
In general, you only need to use a few drops of essential oil. The dose can vary, but a good rule of thumb is to add about 10 drops of essential oil to every tablespoon of your carrier oil.
Before using a new essential oil, do a skin patch test to check its effects on your skin. Rub your diluted oil onto the inside of your forearm. If you don’t experience any irritation or discomfort within 24 to 48 hours, the oil should be safe for you to use.
Massaging diluted essential oil into the skin can help to loosen up muscles and alleviate pain. You can practice self-massage or opt for a professional massage using essential oils.
Add a few drops of your chosen essential oil to a diffuser and inhale the steam in a closed room. No carrier oil is necessary for this method.
If you don’t have a diffuser, you can fill up a bowl or plugged sink with hot water. Add a few drops of the essential oil to the water. Lean over the bowl or sink, cover your head with a towel, and inhale the steam. You can do this for up to 10 minutes.
You may also take a hot bath with essential oils. To dissolve the essential oil, first add 5 drops (the number of drops may change depending on the type of essential oil) to an ounce of carrier oil. If you don’t want oil in your bath, you can add the drops to a cup of milk and the essential oil will mix with the fats in milk. Sitting in the bath will allow the essential oil to enter your body through your skin. The steam that rises from the hot water can provide added aromatherapy. Avoid very hot baths as this can cause weakness or dizziness.
Risks and warnings
Always use caution when trying a new essential oil. Take care to dilute essential oils in a carrier oil such as olive oil or sweet almond oil. Never apply essential oils directly to the skin.
Some people can be allergic to some essential oils. To do a patch test, mix 3 to 5 drops of the essential oil with an ounce of carrier oil Apply a bit of this mixture to unbroken skin of your forearm, about the size of a dime. If no reaction in 24 to 48 hours it should be safe to use.
Talk to your doctor before use if you:
have an existing medical condition
wish to use essential oils on children or older adults
Potential side effects of using essential oils include:
What you can do now
If you want to start using essential oils, do your research first. It’s important to be aware of the unique benefits and risks associated with each type of oil.
You also want to buy from a reputable brand. The FDA doesn’t regulate essential oils, so the ingredients in each product can vary across manufacturers. Some essential oils or oil blends may contain added ingredients that can cause adverse side effects.
You can purchase essential oils online or at your local holistic health store. It also may be helpful to speak with a certified aromatherapist. They can answer any questions you may have and help you pick out the essential oils best suited to your needs.
Be sure to
- Always dilute oils before applying to your skin.
- Perform a skin patch test to check for any irritation or inflammation.
- Avoid applying essential oils to sensitive areas, such as around your eyes or near open wounds.
- Discontinue use if you experience any irritation or discomfort.
- Never ingest an essential oil.
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