Back pain affects millions of people every year. It is the leading cause of disability in the world. Back pain can be acute or chronic. Certain essential oils have been found in scientific studies to help relieve many of the symptoms associated with back pain.
If you are unfamiliar with using essential oils, consult a certified aromatherapist before using them and reference our Essential Oil Safety Guide. In addition, check with your medical practitioner, especially if you are taking any other medications (either prescribed medication or over-the-counter medication).
Symptoms of Back Pain
Back pain may include, although it is not limited to, the following conditions:
- Muscle ache
- Pain that travels down the leg/s
- Stabbing pain
- Shooting pain
- Dull pain
- Walking and standing for periods of time may aggravate back pain
- Lifting objects and bending over may aggravate back pain
- Resting may improve the pain.
5 Best Essential Oils For Relieving Back Pain
1. Ginger Essential Oil
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) essential oil is extracted from the rhizome root of the ginger plant. Ginger is a perennial herb with white or pink buds that mature into yellow flowers. It is a medium-sized herb at three feet in height.
Ginger has strong anti-inflammatory properties. It works as an analgesic in reducing both acute and chronic inflammation as demonstrated in this study that tested the use of Swedish massage and ginger essential oil in adults with chronic low back pain. The results showed a significant improvement in pain intensity and disability with the Swedish massage and ginger oil treatment, compared to traditional Thai massage.
Ginger essential oil is best used in a massage blend for back pain. Due to a slight risk of photo-sensitivity and of skin sensitization, diluted ginger oil in a carrier oil – such as almond or jojoba oil, or carry out a patch test. Combine ginger essential oil with frankincense (Boswellia carteri) essential oil for a relaxing back massage.
2. Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender essential oil is extracted from the leaves and flowers of the evergreen herb. It has a sweet, floral, slightly woody aroma which combines well with most other essential oils.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil is used for a multitude of conditions in aromatherapy practice but one of its lesser known qualities is its use in relieving back pain. Lavender essential oil is analgesic and anti-inflammatory.
Studies have shown that the use of lavender essential oil for low back pain has helped to relieve symptoms. In a randomised control trial, an intervention group underwent eight sessions of acupressure and acupoint stimulation with lavender oil in addition to usual care. The intervention group experienced a 39% reduction in pain intensity, improved walking time and greater lateral spine flexion range compared to the group receiving usual care only.
Dilute lavender essential oil in a base carrier oil such as apricot kernel (Prunus armeniaca) oil. For greatest effect, combine in a blend with Roman chamomile (Chamaeleum nobile) and sweet marjoram (Origanum marjorana) essential oils. Massage into the affected area as needed.
3. Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) essential oil is probably the most popular of the mint oils but it is also possibly the most “potent.” It has a higher level of the chemical components menthol and menthone which are responsible for its potency. The essential oil is extracted from the leaves of the small, perennial herb.
Peppermint oil may help to relieve the symptoms of lower back pain when used in combination with other oils. Like other essential oils used for back pain, peppermint oil has analgesic and anti-inflammatory actions.
Peppermint essential oil should be avoided in pregnancy. It should also never be used with, or in the vicinity of, babies and young children. It has the potential to cause breathing difficulties in this age group. In all instances, dilute in a carrier oil before applying to the skin, and use in moderation.
4. Roman Chamomile Essential Oil
Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is a small, inconspicuous herb with daisy-like flowers. The essential oil is extracted from these flowers. Do not confuse Roman chamomile with its botanical cousin German chamomile (Matricaria recutica) although the two can often be used for similar purposes.
Chamomile has traditionally been used as an anti-inflammatory agent and can be useful in treating osteoporosis. I have personally used it in a blend with lavender and frankincense (Boswellia carterti), in a base of apricot kernel (Prunus armeniaca) oil to temporarily relieve the symptoms of back pain caused by fibromyalgia.
5. Sweet Marjoram Essential Oil
Sweet marjoram (Origanum marjorana) is another small herb which is related to peppermint, lavender, and peppermint. The leaves and flowering tops are extracted for the essential oil.
Sweet marjoram essential oil has a warm and spicy aroma, although more camphoraceous and less sharp than ginger essential oil. In combination with other essential oils, sweet marjoram essential has been shown to produce a calming effect on back pain.
Sweet marjoram has analgesic, antispasmodic, nerve calming and sedative qualities.
Avoid using sweet marjoram essential oil during pregnancy.
How to Use Essential Oils for Pain Relief
Always dilute essential oils in a base, such as a vegetable oil before applying to the skin. Read our Total Guide To Carrier Oils to see twenty-one different base oil options for you to try.
Apricot kernel (Prunus armeniaca), sweet almond (Prunis dulcis), and tamanu (Calophyllum inophyllum) oils are good bases for back pain relief blends, in my experience. Dilute at 2% for regular use. For seniors (over 65 years of age), use only a 1% dilution. For use in pregnancy, or with the use of babies and young children, consult a certified aromatherapist before using any essential oil blend.
If you experience any adverse reactions to the essential oil blend (such as nausea, rash, headache or other), stop using immediately and consult a health care practitioner.