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Can you use essential oils for pain relief?

If medications are doing little to ease your pain, or if you’re looking for a more natural pain relief alternative to drugs, there are many essential oils that can help to relieve your pain.

Each of these oils has a range of properties which will benefit your body in different ways.

Not only can essential oils be used for pain relief, but many essential oils also have anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties, making them suitable for a range of injuries and ailments.  

Content/Quick links

  • Why use aromatherapy for pain relief?
  • Which essential oils help with pain relief?
  • How to use essential oils for pain relief
  • Is it safe to use essential oils for pain relief?
  • To sum up

Why use aromatherapy for pain relief?

For many sufferers of chronic pain, the thought of taking a cocktail of drugs just to get through the day is too much, not to mention they can be hard on the body’s organs. Many also find that painkillers alone are not enough. If you are currently dependent on medication to be able to go about your daily life and are looking for a natural alternative or complementary option, essential oils could be the solution.

Essential oils can help to improve your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, including reducing pain for many people. Each oil has its own unique aroma, along with a range of benefits. You may choose to use these oils individually or to combine them together as a blend.

Research has shown that certain essential oils can help to ease the symptoms of a broad range of issues including headaches, migraines, inflammation, chronic pain, muscle and joint pain associated with arthritis, menstrual cramps, during labour, and more.  

Which essential oils help with pain relief?

Each essential oil has its own benefits, and different oils are suitable for different conditions. We’ve hand-picked some of our favourite essential oils which may offer pain relief.   

Lavender oil: Not just for sleep

Lavender essential oil has been used for centuries to treat a whole host of conditions, from insomnia to anxiety and just about everything in between. However, recent research has proven lavender to also be an effective analgesic, as well as one of the most effective essential oils for inflammation.

In 2015, researchers discovered that lavender essential oil effectively relieves pain and reduces swelling. This research even rated lavender oil as offering pain relief comparable to the prescription medication tramadol when diluted with a carrier oil and applied topically. This suggests that lavender essential oil could be used to treat pain and associated inflammation.

The effects of lavender oil on providing pain relief were also measured in children. In 2013, a study was conducted to measure the effects of lavender oil inhalation on children who had undergone a tonsillectomy. The children who inhaled the aroma of lavender essential oil were able to reduce their pain medication, proving the pain-relieving effects of lavender oil.

Lavender essential oil has also been proven effective in treating headaches and migraines. A 2012 study assessed the impact of inhaling lavender oil on people suffering from migraines. Results showed that lavender oil successfully reduced the severity of migraine headaches, making it an effective choice for migraine relief.  

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Clary sage oil: Ideal for menstrual cramps

Part of the mint family, clary sage is often used in cooking and in teas. However, clary sage essential oil is also a powerful anti-inflammatory whilst also reducing pain.

A 2012 study measured the impact of aromatherapy massage using a blend of clary sage, lavender and marjoram essential oils on menstrual cramps. The researchers found that both the duration and intensity of menstrual cramps was significantly reduced by using this blend of essential oils.

You can also use essential oils in labour. Clary sage essential oil is commonly used to stimulate the uterus to contract during labour, with many women swearing by aromatherapy in labour to reduce its length. However, you shouldn’t use clary sage oil during pregnancy until full term as it could cause early contractions.

Clary sage essential oil has also been found to lower blood pressure, improve mental wellbeing and calm anxiety – common symptoms of chronic pain suffers.

Eucalyptus oil: Cooling pain relief

Originating from the evergreen eucalyptus tree which is native to Australia, eucalyptus essential oil has been used medicinally since the 18th century when doctors began using the steam-distilled oil to treat chest problems. By the late 1800s, eucalyptus oil was being prescribed for respiratory conditions, and countless benefits of this oil are still being discovered today.

A 2013 study investigated the effects of inhaling eucalyptus oil on pain. Patients were asked to inhale eucalyptus oil for 30 minutes on three consecutive days after knee replacement surgery. This resulted in a reduction in both pain and blood pressure, suggesting that eucalyptus oil is an effective essential oil for joint pain.

Eucalyptus oil acts as a counterirritant, similar to menthol. This means that it irritates the skin when applied, causing the skin to feel either hot or cold. This effect has been shown to increase circulation, helping to reduce pain. For this reason, eucalyptus oil is one of the ingredients in many topical analgesics, offering relief from back pain along with muscle sprains and strains.

Thanks to its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, eucalyptus oil is often used to relieve the joint and muscle pain associated with arthritis. If you’re looking for a natural arthritis treatment or one of the most effective essential oils for muscle pain, eucalyptus essential oil could help.  

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Bergamot oil: Uplifting and soothing

Bergamot essential oil contains linalool and carvacrol, compounds which have been proven to reduce both pain and swelling. 

A review of studies in 2019 investigated how different essential oil compounds affect the response to pain in both humans and animals. The review concluded that both linalool and carvacrol have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. This makes bergamot oil one of the most effective essential oils for back pain.

A study published in 2015 concluded that injected bergamot oil or its compounds are effective in treating chronic pain in animals. This study found that bergamot essential oil was particularly effective in reducing neuropathic pain resistant to opioid medication. So while it doesn’t make topical bergamot oil conclusively effective, it’s certainly worth a try. And if all it does is brighten your mood, this alone can help reduce your pain.   

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Peppermint oil: Not just for toothpaste

Extracted from the leaves of the peppermint plant, peppermint oil is often found in foods, toothpastes and toiletries. However, peppermint essential oil also has analgesic properties.

A 2007 study investigated the effects of treating patients suffering from shoulder pain with aromatherapy acupressure. This used peppermint essential oil, in combination with lavender and rosemary oils. Researchers found that the group receiving treatment with peppermint oil experienced a 30% reduction in pain, compared to only 15% in the placebo group.

Peppermint oil has also been proven to relieve the symptoms of migraines and tension headaches in some people. A 2008 study found that topical application of a 10% peppermint oil solution on the forehead and temples of migraine sufferers offered effective pain relief as well as reducing both nausea and light sensitivity.

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Rose oil: Sweet and effective

As well as smelling delicious, rose essential oil has some amazing analgesic properties.

A 2013 study measured the impact of rose oil on menstrual cramps. Women who experienced menstrual pain were given abdominal massages with diluted rose essential oil. The women massaged with rose oil reported less pain following the massage than the placebo group, demonstrating the powerful effect of rose oil.

A study in 2015 looked at the effects of inhaling rose essential oil after surgery in children. The children who inhaled the aroma of rose oil reported a significant decrease in their pain levels. Researchers believe that inhaling rose oil may have stimulated the release of endorphins – our body’s natural pain killer.

How to use essential oils for pain relief

How you decide to use essential oils for pain relief will depend on the type of pain you’re experiencing, as well as your personal preferences. Here are some of our favourite ways to use essential oils for pain relief. 

Aromatherapy massage for pain relief

An aromatherapy massage is a great way to soothe aching or sore muscles and to alleviate pain. You can ask a partner or friend to massage you, visit a qualified masseuse or have a go at self-massage.

It’s important to never apply essential oils undiluted or neat to your skin as they may cause skin irritation. Instead, mix a few drops of essential oil with a tablespoon of carrier oil such as coconut oil or jojoba oil. The mixture can then be massaged into your skin for you to enjoy the analgesic effects of your chosen essential oil.  

Inhaling essential oils for pain relief

Inhaling essential oils is an effective method of pain relief whilst also making your home smell delicious. Simply add a few drops of your chosen essential oil to an aromatherapy diffuser and inhale the aroma.

If you don’t own a diffuser, you can add a couple drops of essential oil to the hot wax of a lit candle to create your own personal scented candle. You can also try adding bergamot oil into a bowl of hot water and inhale the steam. It may seem strange that just inhaling essential oils could help reduce pain, but remember that our smell receptors are closely linked to the limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for emotions and for controlling the stress response, including breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. So it should come as no surprise that simply smelling the aroma of essential oils can have such powerful effects on the body. 

Aromatherapy bath for pain relief

A warm bath can have huge benefits if you’re suffering from pain. Hydrotherapy is an effective method of pain relief in itself, especially if your pain is muscular. The immersion, buoyancy and heat that come with a bath are a great way to alleviate pain whilst allowing your body to relax.

Couple this with pain-relieving essential oils to really reap the benefits of an aromatherapy bath. You’ll first need to mix your chosen essential oil with a tablespoon of carrier oil. This will help your oil to disperse effectively throughout the water, avoiding skin irritation.

If you don’t have any carrier oil on hand, don’t worry. You can also mix your chosen essential oil with a tablespoon of full-fat cow’s milk which will enable dispersion.

Is it safe to use essential oils for pain relief?

Although essential oils are a natural product, there are a few safety guidelines you should follow when you’re practising aromatherapy.

As with anything, some people may experience an allergic reaction when using essential oils. If you’re applying essential oils to your skin, you should always mix them with a carrier oil first. This is because essential oils are extremely potent and can cause skin irritation if applied undiluted. It’s also important to do a patch test to check for skin irritation before using the oil more liberally.

Should you experience any symptoms of an allergic reaction, you should stop using the essential oil immediately, rinse any oil from your skin and contact your medical provider for advice.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have a health condition, you should always consult your medical provider before using essential oils, as certain oils may not be compatible with certain health conditions.

To sum up

If you’re looking for a natural alternative to painkillers, or your current medication isn’t quite cutting it, it’s worth trying essential oils. They’re an easy, natural and safe way to enhance your mental wellbeing while providing the extra pain support you need, all while making your home smell wonderful.

Different essential oils are effective for different types of pain, from headaches and migraines to menstrual cramps and muscular pain. You may need to try a few different essential oils before you find the one that’s right for alleviating your pain.

If you have any questions about using essential oils for pain relief or if you’re looking for tips on aromatherapy, you can contact an aroma expert at:

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