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Medicine men have used essential oils since ancient times to treat all kinds of health problems, but nothing has made these potent cures popular as their pain-relieving properties. They can be as effective as, or even better than, the modern day analgesics, but with few of their side effects.
Essential oils are particularly useful in the management of chronic pain as in the case of arthritis and sciatica. What makes them even more special is that, besides easing the pain, they help remedy at least some of the conditions that caused the pain. For instance, when peppermint essential oil is used on aching muscles, it not only relieves pain but improves blood circulation to the area, reducing the inflammation that causes the pain. Likewise, the lavender essential oil commonly used to relieve headaches and neck pain also helps reduce the stress and anxiety that could be the underlying cause of these painful conditions.
Lavender and peppermint essential oils are popular pain relievers for general use, but there are a number of other essential oils that can be used for specific conditions. The analgesic (pain relieving) properties of different essential oils are accompanied by one or more beneficial actions such as:
Antirheumatic – brings relief from chronic rheumatic pain and stiffness of the joints
Antimicrobial – action against disease-causing bacteria and other microorganisms; it is useful in treating pain resulting from sinus congestion, stomach infections, and boils.
Sedative – a mild tranquilizing effect that reduces irritability and discomfort resulting from aches and pains
Anesthetic – a temporary loss of sensation or numbing of the affected area; it can reduce the intensity of pain while healing takes place.
Carminative – reduces gas formation and accumulation in the gastrointestinal tract; beneficial in reducing stomach ache and cramps.
Decongestant – Facilitates drainage in the upper respiratory tract; relieves headaches from nasal and sinus congestion resulting from colds and allergies.
Anti-inflammatory – reduces inflammation and swelling often associated with joint pain and muscle injuries
Antispasmodic – disrupts painful muscle contractions or spasms which often result from injuries to the nerves and spine and helps relieve lower back pains. Antispasmodic action can relieve abdominal pains, especially in those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Antidepressant – helps treat not just depression but a number of related conditions, including neuropathic pain, migraine, and chronic pain.
Mental stress and lack of sleep are behind many of the aches and pains. It shouldn’t be surprising since body and mind are not two different entities; they are the extension of one another. Just as a niggling lower back pain or severe headache can affect our mood, making us irritable and depressed, stress, anxiety and mental fatigue can manifest as physical pain.
Some of the best essential oils for pain relief are…
Lavender essential oil
The sweet-smelling lavender essential oil needs no introduction; it is the number one remedy for a migraine and tension headaches. It is soothing and relaxing and has a mild sedative effect which helps relieve stress and anxiety that could be causing the headache. Mere inhalation of the vapors is sufficient to bring about relief in most cases. Being a mild oil, one or two drops can be applied undiluted on the neck and forehead for quicker results.
The anti-inflammatory and analgesic action of lavender essential oil can relieve body aches resulting from sore muscles. Mix a few drops in a tablespoon of castor oil or coconut oil and massage into the affected area. Use this excellent sleep aid in a diffuser in the bedroom or add it to bath water before going to bed to sleep off your pains.
2. Chamomile essential oil
The Roman chamomile oil extracted from Anthemis nobilis and the German chamomile oil from Matricaria chamomilla have analgesic properties, and can be used to treat headaches and neuralgia as well as muscle and joint pains. Both of them have a carminative effect, and can relieve abdominal pain due to gas.
Roman chamomile oil is milder and soothing and is often used to treat abdominal discomfort and irritability in small children. However, the deep blue German chamomile oil is more effective in treating pain resulting from inflammatory conditions. It has excellent anti-inflammatory action owing to the compound chamazulene which gives it the characteristic color. It is very effective in treating bowel diseases, lower back pain in adults and PMS in women.
3. Peppermint essential oil
One of the earliest essential oils to be used medicinally, peppermint essential oil is obtained from a natural hybrid of spearmint and watermint. The highly refreshing smell of the oil comes from the active ingredient menthol which is the major component of the oil.
The antispasmodic effect of this oil has been put to good use in several medicinal preparations to relieve nausea, indigestion, and stomachache. It soothes the lining of the stomach and intestines and suppresses painful spasms. The analgesic action of peppermint oil is not limited to the antispasmodic effect on the digestive tract. When used topically, it relaxes muscles in the lower back, reduces tension headaches and pain due to fibromyalgia. It is a decongestant and helps relieve headaches due to sinus congestion.
4. Eucalyptus essential oil
This pungent warming oil is extracted from the bark and leaves of the eucalyptus tree. This powerful decongestant has anti-inflammatory properties that contribute to pain relief in case of sinus congestion and muscle injuries. Being a very strong oil, it should be diluted with coconut oil when applying on the skin, except when used to treat insect stings and bites.
5. Rosemary essential oil
Extracted from the shrub Rosmarinus officinalis, same as the culinary herb, the essential oil of rosemary is known as a memory-enhancer and appetite stimulant. But it is anti-inflammatory and analgesic too. Inhale the vapors to relieve a headache or apply the oil topically to reduce joint pains and muscle soreness. It is particularly useful in treating rheumatism.
6. Juniper essential oil
Extracted from the berries of the blue-green evergreen Juniperus communis, the essential oil is used to treat a number of painful conditions such as hemorrhoids, colitis, and dysmenorrhea. Sitting for 15 to 20 minutes in a hot bath to which a few drops of the oil are added helps relieve hemorrhoids. A few drops mixed with a spoonful of olive oil or mixed into an herbal tea can be taken internally to treat colitis and indigestion. Its carminative effect relieves pain due to gas accumulation. Juniper berry oil is used topically to treat rheumatic pain too.
7. Wintergreen essential oil
Wintergreen oil is obtained from a North American evergreen shrub Gaultheria procumbens growing close the ground. Its pain-relieving property was well known to Native Americans who had used it extensively in tribal medicine. Although the leaf extract had been earlier used internally to treat digestive and bladder problems, the essential oil is now limited to external use due to its toxicity and risk of causing intestinal hemorrhage.
Wintergreen oil is excellent for treating skeletal pains and neuralgia. It is commonly used to treat arthritis and muscle pain resulting from sports injuries. Always use it diluted with carrier oils when applying to the affected area. It can relieve a headache and sore throat too.
8. Cayenne essential oil
The hot and spicy essential oil extracted from the seeds of cayenne pepper is surprisingly effective in relieving the most severe types of pain such as that of shingles. Because of its potency, it has to be used in a much-diluted form. A little cayenne oil goes a long way. A single drop of this thick, viscous oil mixed with a light carrier oil like coconut oil makes it easier to apply. Use it topically to relieve arthritic and rheumatic pain and neuralgia.
9. Ginger essential oil
Fresh ginger and its extract are popular as digestive aids, but the essential oil is just as effective in treating a number of painful autoimmune conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus etc. The essential oil can be taken internally or used topically or inhaled. Unlike the analgesic drugs used to manage the above conditions, ginger oil therapy has been found to have no adverse side effects even when used for extended periods of time.
10. Sandalwood essential oil
This is one of the most expensive essential oils since the oil is obtained from the heartwood of the Sandalwood tree Santalum album. The tree should be at least 50 years or older to provide high-quality oil. However, its antispasmodic property and the anti-inflammatory action of sandalwood make it worth having in your medicine chest. It is a powerful pain reliever whether it is muscle pain, skeletal pain or neuralgia. Use a few drops in an infuser or take a daily dose of 3 drops of pure oil in a cup of water. This has been known to reduce pain due to endometriosis.
11. Clary sage essential oil
Clary sage oil derived from the herb Salvia sclarea is best known for its benefits to the eye, but it is an excellent pain killer too, especially in case of pain associated with menstruation and menopause. It relieves stress-induced headache when used in a diffuser and reduces cramps and painful stomach spasms when applied to the abdominal area, but it should not be taken internally. This oil should be used sparingly and cautiously.
12. Clove essential oil
Cloves are the unopened buds of the Syzygium aromaticum tree from the tropics. The oil extracted from cloves is highly spicy and pungent and gives a burning sensation when applied on the skin in the undiluted form. This is immediately followed by an anesthetic action which helps provide almost instantaneous relief from acute pain as in the case of a toothache. A few drops of clove oil can be mixed with a cup of warm water and used as a throat gargle to get relief from throat pain. Besides that, the antimicrobial action of the oil can help clear the infection too.
To get relief from muscle and joint pain and soreness resulting from overexertion, Clove oil mixed with jojoba oil or olive oil can be massaged into the affected area. Use just a drop of undiluted oil on insect bites for instant relief. To treat headaches, mix a few drops of clove oil in water or salt solution and apply to the forehead and neck.
13. Marjoram essential oil
Made from sweet marjoram, an herb closely related to oregano, this spicy, edible oil is analgesic and antispasmodic. Use it in an infuser to treat headaches during cold and fever. Diluted with olive oil and massaged into the affected area, it relieves muscular spasms resulting from overexertion of muscles in hands and legs. When taken internally, it can also reduce abdominal spasms associated with diarrhea. Marjoram oil is a good toothache remedy for spot application as well.
The mild sedative effect of sweet marjoram oil provides relief from chronic pain and is effective in treating conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatism.
14. Yarrow essential oil
It is extracted from the yarrow plant Achillea millefolium commonly known as nosebleed plant because of its ability to stop bleeding from the nose as well as minor wounds. The essential oil is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, and contains salicylic acid which is behind the analgesic effect of aspirin.
15. Helichrysum essential oil
Distilled from the flowering plant Helichrysum italicum, this oil is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic analgesic. When applied on bruised areas, it quickly takes away not only the pain but the visible discoloration of the skin. The bruises are known to disappear overnight. For instant relief from the pain and soreness resulting from sunburn, apply Helichrysum oil diluted with coconut oil.
Helichrysum oil is a staple in anti-rheumatic medications. It can relieve deep nerve pain and provide quick relief from painful conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and sciatica.
Cautions & Notes
All these essential oils have a multipronged action as they contain a number of active compounds, some acting as soothing muscle and nerve relaxants while others have an invigorating action on the mind and body. The essential oils of yarrow, helichrysum and dandelion are effective pain relievers, but if you have ragweed allergy, you may have allergic reactions to them, as well as to chamomile oil, since these plants belong to the ragweed family. Test with a small amount of diluted essential oil first. The medicinal properties of many essential oils overlap, so if you are allergic to some essential oils, it shouldn’t keep you from trying others.
Some of the pain-relieving essential oils can be mixed together to get the benefit of their combined action. Unless an expert practitioner in herbal remedies and essential oils can formulate a mixture that suits your needs, making your own by trial and error is the best bet.
How To Dilute Essential Oils
Pure essential oils are highly potent and concentrated, so they should be diluted with carrier oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil or castor oil before direct application on the skin. Use the purest grade of carrier oils since they have therapeutic properties of their own and enhance the action of the essential oils. For instance, the substance oleocanthal in extra-virgin olive oil has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that match NSAIDs like Ibuprofen. Castor oil has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. Jojoba oil has excellent skin protective emollient action, while the lauric acid in coconut oil is antibacterial.
The potency of essential oils should not be underestimated. They should be used with great caution and avoided during pregnancy and in young children unless certified to be safe.
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