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Arthritis simply means inflamed joints, and it is a general term used for conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, and fibromyalgia that precipitate swelling and pain in the joints, often accompanied by partial to complete loss of joint movement.
Over 20% of the U.S. population is estimated to suffer from some form or arthritis that causes pain and movement problems that interfere with their day to day activities. In fact, arthritis is the most common disability among adults. Since it often reduces the quality of life, arthritis may precipitate severe emotional distress, including serious depression.
Older people and women have a higher probability of developing arthritis, so do those carrying certain gene variations that predispose them to lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis. Age, gender, and genetic factors apart, infections and injuries to joints, obesity, and occupations involving repetitive movements increase the risk and severity of arthritis.
Why Natural Remedies?
In conventional medicine, the treatment of arthritis is limited to the temporary management of symptoms in most cases. Anti-inflammatory analgesics are often prescribed to reduce the pain and swelling, which helps increase the range of motion to some extent. In severe cases, corticosteroids may be given to bring down inflammation by suppressing the immune system. All these treatments have serious side effects, especially when used long term. That’s where natural remedies come in.
We know that the active ingredient in aspirin, one of the most common anti-inflammatory analgesic drugs in use, was originally derived from the bark of the willow tree. There are several other herbs with similar properties that can be used to treat arthritic conditions.
Essential oils are the purest essences of these therapeutic herbs. They can often bring about great relief without precipitating undesirable side effects because they contain several other components that work in tandem, modulating one another’s effects.
The following essential oils have been found to be effective in treating arthritis on their own and in combination.
Warning: Before using essential oils, please consult your health care practitioner. Some essential oils can interact with certain drugs and not all essential oils are safe to use by all. Please refer to this article for more details on essential oil safety.
Top 10 Essential Oils To Relieve Arthritis
1. Peppermint oil
Peppermint may be more popular as candy flavoring, but it has excellent anti-inflammatory properties along with an anesthetic effect that helps in relieving the pain and swelling associated with arthritic conditions, rheumatoid arthritis in particular.
Mix 5-10 drops of peppermint oil (available here) with 2 Tbsp warmed coconut oil to make a ready-to-use salve. It can be mixed with other oils in this selection to get a more potent anti-arthritic formulation. Use as often as needed for relief of pain.
2. Eucalyptus oil
The aromatic leaves of gum trees native to Australia, mainly Eucalyptus globulus, are used for extracting this oil, It has a characteristic strong, penetrating smell. Eucalyptol is the main component of the oil, but it has several other active agents that provide a powerful anti-inflammatory effect. Rubbing eucalyptus oil (available here) diluted in a carrier oil over swollen and aching joints often brings quick relief, but it can cause skin irritation in many people. Test in a small patch of skin before using this oil.
Read More: 10 Magical Uses For Eucalyptus Oil
3. Ginger oil
Ginger is better known as a culinary spice, but it has wide-ranging therapeutic uses too. The excellent anti-inflammatory effect of ginger oil is useful in treating a variety of inflammatory conditions, including arthritis. The essential oil of ginger is extracted from the unpeeled rhizome of Zingiber officinale. Apart from its signature chemical component zingiberene, the oil contains several potent phytochemicals such as geraniol, geranial, neral, borneol, camphene, etc.
Massage diluted ginger oil (available here) into the affected area and use a warm compress to enhance absorption. Try mixing it with essential oils of lavender or lemongrass.
4. Lavender oil
Lavender oil (available here), extracted from the flower buds of Lavandula angustifolia, is well known for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. People with rheumatoid arthritis often report a drastic improvement in their symptoms when lavender oil is applied topically.
3-5 drops of this sweet-smelling, mild oil can be used by most without dilution for instant pain relief, but diluting in a teaspoon of carrier oil is advisable to avoid skin irritation. Rub it in with a circular motion and repeat as and when necessary. It improves blood circulation in the area and reduces inflammation. Lavender has a soothing effect on the mind too, which can help relieve the frustration associated with severe arthritis.
5. Cayenne pepper oil
The pungent Cayenne pepper oil is extracted from the fiery chilies carrying the same name. It has excellent analgesic properties, but it has to be repeatedly used for several days before the effect becomes apparent. Capsaicin is the primary active ingredient, and it brings about pain relief by depleting substance P, a neurotransmitter peptide that gets released as a response to inflammation. This molecule is responsible for carrying pain sensations to the brain, and capsaicin counteracts this process.
Apply a few drops of cayenne pepper oil mixed with coconut oil, 2-3 times a day for several weeks. If skin irritation occurs, stop use and consult a health care practitioner. The resulting pain relief often lasts three months or more.
6. Rosemary oil
Rosemary oil (available here) extracted from the leaves of the shrub Rosmarinus officinalis is both analgesic and anti-inflammatory. The main component of the oil, rosmarinic acid, is responsible for this effect, but other bioactive substances also may have a supporting role.
In several lab studies, rosmarinic acid was found to inhibit the progression of rheumatoid arthritis in rats. It probably has a similar effect in people afflicted with this autoimmune condition where their WBCs cause loss of cartilage.
7. Frankincense oil
Oil of Frankincense (available here) is made from the dried resin of some trees in the Boswellia genus, native to Africa and the Middle East. Frankincense had been used in many religious ceremonies for its purported capacity to enhance spiritual experiences.
Laboratory experiments have shown that frankincense may arrest the progress of rheumatoid arthritis by inhibiting the production of certain inflammatory substances, thus preventing the damage they cause to the cartilages. The monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes in the oil are responsible for this healing effect.
8. Myrrh oil
Myrrh is obtained from the resinous deposits of Commiphora molmol, a thorny bush native to Egypt and Jordan. Myrrh, along with frankincense, used to be a common item of incense in many ancient religious traditions and had been used medicinally for various conditions.
The anti-inflammatory effect of Myrrh has been extensively studied and is found to be equivalent to the NSAIDS used for treating arthritis. Myrrh oil mixed with olive oil can be applied to the affected joints. It reduces swelling in the limbs by lowering the levels of an inflammatory substance leukotaxine. This substance is usually produced when tissues are injured.
9. Lemongrass oil
This sweet-smelling, citrusy oil is steam-distilled from the leaves and stems of Cymbopogon citratus grass. In the Ayurvedic therapy for arthritis, the steam from lemongrass boiling in water is directed towards the affected joints. The warmth from the steam facilitates the absorption of the oil deep into the tissues. This provides long-lasting pain relief.
Lemongrass oil (available here) is astringent and diuretic, drawing out excess fluid from the tissues and driving it out of the body. This helps in combating the widespread inflammation characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Another major advantage of Lemongrass oil is its antidepressant effect, which can help reduce the feeling of insecurity and depression that plague many people with debilitating arthritis.
Unlike many essential oils that produce an anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect from salicylates, Lemongrass oil has a different set of active agents such as Citronellal, Myrcene, Limonene, Citral, Geraniol, and Nerol. It is a bonus for people who are allergic to aspirin and those taking blood-thinning drugs.
Read Next: 29 Lemongrass Oil Benefits & Uses
10. Birch oil/Sweet Birch oil
The essential oil of birch is extracted from the bark of the birch tree Betula lenta. It has a sweet, camphor-like smell and strong anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect, which comes from its methyl salicylate and salicylic acid content. It is reportedly as effective as corticosteroids in relieving pain and joint swelling from gout, tendonitis, and osteoarthritis. The strong astringent property of the oil quickly reduces the fluid collection around the joints, improving their range of motion.
Birch oil is a common component of many anti-arthritic formulations and pain salves, but the pure oil has to be used with caution. It is usually combined with lemongrass oil and diluted with carrier oils before applying on inflamed joints. Birch oil should not be used by the elderly or patients on blood thinning medication.
Maximize the therapeutic effect by combining different essential oils
A combination of 2 or more essential oils can often provide even more pain relief than individual ones. For example, you can mix ten drops each of the essential oils of Birch, Lemongrass, and Geranium with a carrier oil to get an excellent pain rub for aching joints. Similarly, combine different essential oils to make an arthritis busting personal formula to suit your needs.
Essential oils are highly concentrated, so they should be diluted appropriately with carrier oils like coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil etc. Mix in melted beeswax to get an ointment-like consistency that makes it easier to carry around.
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