Essential Oils for Pain Relief

By Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT
June 29, 2009

Essential Oils for Pain Relief

By Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT
June 29, 2009

Working with essential oils requires an understanding of the physiological properties, methods of delivery, safety issues such as skin sensitization and contraindication, as well as the "subtle" aspect which includes the effect on the mind, emotions and spirit. Once again, I invite and encourage those readers who have not seen my earlier columns to search the archives for basic information on methods and safe use of essential oils and a discussion of subtle aromatherapy.

When it comes to pain relief, aromatherapy recognizes that there are different ways to approach. For example, there are specific essential oils recommended for headache pain if the headache is caused by stress, by overindulging, by withheld anger, and so on. In the same way, muscle or joint pain could require nerve sedation, warming through increased circulation, removing inflammation and/or toxins, or a combination of these and other aspects. Massage therapists should be well-equipped to determine the physical cause and description of the client's pain, which makes selecting the right essence easy if you know its physiological properties.

Understanding the mental and emotional state of the client in regard to the pain or in their current life experience will add the ability to select essences based on the subtle properties. For example, a pain blend for someone who has had a sports injury would be different than one for someone going through a difficult divorce. The most effective blend addresses both physical and subtle influences. Topical application in massage or bath is suggested, but relief through inhaling diffused blends has also been reported. Essential oils have been seen to have an almost immediate effect on muscle tissue augmented by manipulation through massage.

Musculoskeletal pain can be effectively reduced through using analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, detoxifying and rubefacient essential oils.

Analgesic Essential Oils

German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus ), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana), Peppermint (Mentha x piperita), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and Thyme (Thymus vulgaris ct. linalool) are common analgesic essential oils. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an essence more frequently used in the East. Earlier articles have explored the properties of the commonly used essences. Of these, Chamomile, Lavender and Marjoram are also a sedative, while Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Rosemary and Thyme are considered stimulants.

A lesser known stimulant is Turmeric. A native of South Asia, Turmeric has been used for thousands of years as an herb in cooking and as medicine. The yellow powder is an ingredient in many curries. Current research indicates that Turmeric has a strong antioxidant property that makes it an herb that may prevent and assist disease and aging issues. It belongs to the ginger family and the powder and essential oil is obtained from the thick rhizome (root). In traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, Turmeric is used to treat flatulence, colic, abdominal pain, liver disorder, menstrual issues, hemorrhage, bruises, sores and toothache as well as chest and shoulder pain. Because of its analgesic, anti-arthritis, anti-inflammatory, choleric, digestive and rubefacient properties, aromatherapists use Turmeric for arthritis, rheumatism, digestive problems and liver congestion. Research has shown that turmeric can stop the proliferation of laboratory strains of melanoma. (Read Farida Irani 2008 article "Turmeric" in "Aromatherapy Journal," the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) e-Journal.) Turmeric is said to be non-toxic, non-irritant and non-sensitizing.

Anti-inflammatory Essential Oils

German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum), also known as Everlasting, Turmeric (Curcuma longa) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) bring down swelling and are appropriate choices for osteo and rheumatoid arthritis, strains and sprains where inflammation is present. Both German Chamomile and Yarrow are deep blue.

Treatment Blends for Pain
Diluted into 1 oz carrier oil, based only on analgesic and anti-inflammatory physiological properties a treatment blend for inflamed, painful joints or strained muscles and back pain might include the following:
Inflamed, Painful Joints
Chamomile 1 drop
Marjoram 5 drops
Rosemary 3 drops
Turmeric 1 drop
Strained Muscles and Back Pain
Lavendar 6 drops
Eucalyptus 1 drop
Peppermint 2 drops
Helichrysum 1 drop

These blends contain both sedative and stimulant essences, but a greater number of drops of sedative oils create an overall relaxing effect.

This is part one of a two-part series discussing essential oils used for pain relief. Part two will explore anti-rheumatics, detoxifiers, rubefacients and some subtle aromatherapy aspects of these pain relieving essential oils.

Editor's note: For more information on essential oils and treatment blends, log onto and click on "Aromatherapy Central."