Essential Oils for Pain Relief: Can They Help?

Pain can be debilitating on both a mental and a physical level. If you’re experiencing pain, you’ve likely considered trying anything that may help you to better deal with it. There are plenty of options for pain relief out there, from the traditional over the counter or prescription pain medications to more holistic options like essential oils. 

No one should suffer with pain, and we’d like to help everyone find what will help them best deal with their daily struggles. 

So, to that end, we’d like to take a closer look at essential oils for pain relief. Do they really work? Can they help?

What Exactly is Pain?

To learn about how essential oils can potentially help with pain relief, we need to first learn about what exactly pain is.

Pain, at a very basic level, is an uncomfortable sensation that happens in the body to alert you that something is wrong. Pain comes in many different forms, and can be described in a lot of different ways:

  • Steady
  • Throbbing
  • Stabbing
  • Aching
  • Pinching
  • Cramping

Most people normally describe their pain on a 1 to 10 scale, with 1 being the most mild and 10 being the most severe. 

Pain is also incredibly personal and subjective, and everyone’s pain response and tolerance is different. A pain level of 5 for one person may be a 7 for someone else… and neither person is experiencing that pain “wrong.” Pain should always be paid attention to, especially if it is a new sensation.

Pain is recognized by the body’s nociceptors, which are nerve cells that both receive and transmit stimulation messages sent between nerves. Over the counter and prescription pain medications were developed to help block these signals, and essential oils may also be able to help.

So, Can Essential Oils Help With Pain?

Essential oils have been the subject of on and off research for quite some time. While the amount of research isn’t huge, what has been done has shown a variety of potential benefits through both aromatherapy and topical application. 

The problem with the research is that essential oils are not standardized or subjected to any control by the FDA. That means that essential oil quality can definitely vary depending on the brand or the area it comes from. It’s also hard to get research funded because so much focus is put on prescription medications, which make research done on alternative medicine more difficult to get companies interested in. 

Hopefully, as time goes on, more research will be done on all of the potential benefits of essential oils to really offer people an alternative to the other options out there. But, for now, the research seems promising and the anecdotal evidence is impressive. 

Which Essential Oils Are Best For Pain?

With essential oils so potentially game-changing for pain, the next obvious question is: which ones are the best to help with pain? We’ll focus on just a few that we think are the best to help with pain from a variety of angles. 

  • Peppermint - Peppermint oil can be a tricky one, because it has a tendency to cause some skin irritation if used without a carrier oil like coconut or jojoba. However, peppermint oil also has the potential to help people suffering with pain associated with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). 

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, peppermint oil has actually been subject to the most research on this exact subject. Specifically, peppermint oil taken orally in enteric-coated capsules. It’s important to be aware that peppermint oil can be toxic in large doses, so only just a few drops are needed to help with IBS-related pain. It is a very concentrated essential oil.

There is also a small amount of research that shows that peppermint oil, used topically with a carrier oil, may also be able to help temporarily alleviate the pain associated with a mild headache. People frequently also use it to help with muscles aches and pains just by adding a drop or two to lotion or carrier oil.

  • Lavender - Most people know lavender oil because of its incredible soothing and sleep-promoting benefits. However, not as many people know that lavender essential oil can also be helpful for dealing with headaches or pain. 

While not a lot of studies have been performed, those that have are pretty optimistic. And this study, from 2015, also shows it has potential as an anti-inflammatory. It’s great not only for mental health but also for its pain relieving properties, settling down both the mind and the body.

  • Rosehip Oil - Rosehip oil is one of the lesser known and utilized essential oils, but it has plenty of potential when it comes to helping with pain relief. 

Organizations that have done research into its benefits, like Arthritis Research U.K., have found that rosehip essential oil has both antioxidants like polyphenols and anthocyanins (which is the dark blue pigment that is present in many of the foods and plants we consume regularly). Both of these chemicals are known to help with joint pain and inflammation.

  • Evening primrose oil - Evening primrose oil is an excellent essential oil for women, as it has potential to help relieve cramping and pain during the menstrual cycle. In fact, this essential oil has been studied by physicians for other female related ailments like breast pain and menopausal symptoms as well. It can also reduce overall inflammation for all people, not just women. While more studies will need to be performed to accurately study its effectiveness, evening primrose oil looks very promising, especially for those suffering from “female” problems.

What Else Can I Do For Pain?

If you’ve tried prescription pain medication and even essential oils aren’t helping like you want them to, there are a few other things you can try at home to help relieve some of your pain.

That said, any new or significantly increased pain should always be evaluated by a physician to rule out any serious health concerns. Always take pain seriously.

  • Try an epsom salt bath - The use of epsom salts for pain has been studied for hundreds of years. Not only is it cheap and easy to find, it also combines the benefits of magnesium and sodium with the joint supporting properties of a hot bath to relieve aches and pains all over the body. Just draw yourself a bath, light a candle, and feel the pain melt away.
  • Check out your pressure points - Relieving pressure points are another great, natural way to help reduce pain. There are many pressure points that can help reduce pain all over the body, but the key ones are between your ring fingers and pinkie (for back pain) and the bridge of your nose/between your eyes (for headache). Simply apply medium to firm pressure and hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Take time out - Sometimes pain is the body’s way of telling us that we need to slow down. Instead of pushing through the pain, which can cause you to hurt yourself further, curl up on the couch with a comfy blanket, a good book or a TV show to binge watch, and a big glass of water. Giving yourself the time your body needs to heal, both physically and emotionally, can not only reduce pain but also the duration that you feel it for. You can also light an essential-oil infused candle to help promote a relaxing atmosphere and enjoy some aromatherapy benefits as you take time to relax. 
  • Get regular health exams - Pain can come from many different sources, plenty of them that can be managed by seeking regular healthcare. This is especially true if you’re experiencing frequent headaches, which can often come simply from not having an up to date eye exam. In order to stay at your healthiest, routine care is needed. Don’t visit the doctor only when you’re not feeling well!
  • Practice deep breathing - When your pain is flared up, it is natural to want to hold your breath, grit your teeth and just try to get through it. However, using deep breathing may be able to not only help you manage the pain but also lower your anxiety and blood pressure as it is occuring. Taking slow deep breaths, counting them as you inhale and exhale, can give you something to focus on while the pain naturally declines.

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Essential oils are proving time and time again that they have serious potential when it comes to holistically improving health and wellness. When combined with their amazing mental health benefits, those seeking an alternative to traditional options are likely to be astounded by everything they can do. 

Whether that’s by using their aromatherapy benefits when taking a bath or by rubbing them directly onto the skin (with a carrier oil, of course), essential oils are well worth a shot to help soothe your mind and your body!

Sources:

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/pain/blaustein_pain_center/patient_care/what_is_pain.html 

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/features/pain-scale 

https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/aromatherapy/what-does-research-say-about-essential-oils

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/peppermintoil 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22517298 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26247152