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Massage Today
March, 2006, Vol. 06, Issue 03

Essential Oils for Fibromyalgia

By Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT

In this aromatic message, we will explore the use of essential oils in the treatment of fibromyalgia. The deep tissue work known to relieve spasms and pain actually can increase discomfort for those who suffer from FM and cause them to avoid further treatment.

Clients who report this diagnosis frequently request a light massage touch. A gentle, noninvasive massage with essential oils providing relaxation, peace and comfort can offer great relief for the symptoms of this increasingly common complaint.

What Is Fibromyalgia?

The Web site for the National Fibromyalgia Association, www.fmaware.org, states, "Fibromyalgia (FM) is an increasingly recognized chronic pain illness which is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal aches, pain and stiffness, soft tissue tenderness, general fatigue and sleep disturbances. The most common sites of pain include the neck, back, shoulders, pelvic girdle and hands, but any body part can be involved. Fibromyalgia patients experience a range of symptoms of varying intensities that wax and wane over time. FM is characterized by the presence of multiple tender points and a constellation of symptoms."

How is the diagnosis made? The Web site continues: "Currently there are no laboratory tests available for diagnosing fibromyalgia. Doctors must rely on patient histories, self-reported symptoms, a physical examination and an accurate manual tender point examination. This exam is based on the standardized ACR criteria. Proper implementation of the exam determines the presence of multiple tender points at characteristic locations."

The site also says it can take an average of five years to have the condition diagnosed. The cause is not known, though current research points to a disorder involving neuroendocrine/neurotransmitter dysregulation. Increased pain appears due to abnormal sensory processing in the central nervous system. Studies also show multiple physiological abnormalities in FM patients, including increased levels of Substance P in the spinal cord, low levels of blood flow to the thalamus region of the brain, HPA axis hypofunction, low levels of serotonin and tryptophan, and abnormalities in cytokine function. Other evidence suggests a connection between early trauma and a more recent trauma of an emotional or physical nature will bring the symptoms out.

Discussing current treatment protocols for the varied symptoms, Lynne K. Matallana, president of the NFA has said, "The NFA suggests that individuals who suffer with the symptoms of fibromyalgia implement a self-management program which incorporates both Western and complementary approaches to health care. Some people with FM are very sensitive to medicines and prefer to use more natural health care options. Dealing with the constant pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia can be quite stressful, and finding ways to help relieve stress can also help to reduce the overall symptoms of this chronic illness. Since fibromyalgia involves an increase in neurological sensitivity, both physically and emotionally, practices that are calming can bring a sense of relief. To accomplish these goals, we suggest aromatherapy alone or in combination with massage and other relaxation techniques. The use of fragrant herbs or oils can help promote sleep, calm the mind, decrease muscle pain, increase circulation, relieve headaches and promote a general sense of well-being."

Essential oils to help the FM client during massage also can be used at home in bath and body oils, as well as simple diffusion (releasing in the air) or inhalation. For the purpose of therapeutic massage, up to 10 or 12 drops of a blend of essences can be used in a 1-ounce base of carrier oil, which should be a cold-pressed nut, seed or vegetable oil. I highly recommend fractionated coconut oil, which can be found on the Internet. It is clear, light and odorless, never oxidizes, and there is total skin penetration. The essential oils most useful in treating the symptoms of FM are:

  • For pain relief: spike lavender, sweet marjoram, lavender, petitgrain, Roman and German chamomile, clary sage, lemongrass, helichrysum, peppermint, ginger and black pepper. Spike lavender with peppermint and helichrysum creates an anti-inflammatory synergy.
  • For stress/anxiety relief: rose otto, frankincense, clary sage, sweet orange, bergamot, grapefruit, ylang ylang, sandalwood, neroli, sweet marjoram, petitgrain, mandarin, lavender, rose geranium, tangerine, jasmine.
  • For peaceful sleep: lavender, neroli, jasmine, marjoram, Roman chamomile.
  • For a feeling of harmony and safety: frankincense, lavender, rose, mandarin, neroli, helichrysum.
  • For headaches: lavender, peppermint, marjoram, Roman chamomile.
  • For increased circulation: rosemary, ginger, black pepper, peppermint, lemongrass, rose geranium.

While I believe the best blend will be specific to the individual and their needs, a useful overall blend might be: 4 drops of lavender, 1 drop of frankincense, 4 drops of sweet orange, and 1 drop of neroli. Another blend could include 4 drops of sweet marjoram, 1 drop of Roman chamomile, 4 drops of mandarin, and 1 drop of rose. If you want to provide more circulation, use 4 drops of lavender, 4 drops of rose geranium, 2 drops of rosemary, and 1 drop of lemongrass.

In your selection process, be familiar with the mental, emotional and spiritual effects of the essences, as well as their physical properties. This will make the blend more appropriate for a specific client. The citrus oils provide energy and courage, and the flowers create peace and harmony, while spiritual connection comes through rose, neroli, sandalwood, frankincense, helichrysum, mandarin and lavender. You might need to experiment with different blends before you find the one that works best for an individual. When you see a good result, for greatest benefit, encourage them to use the blend at home, too.

I invite your questions and any FM blends you would like to share.


Click here for more information about Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT.

 

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