The Arthritis Foundation estimates that 81 percent of Americans either have arthritis and/or know someone who has it. (1) Fortunately there are many things you can do to help alleviate arthritis pain and stiffness, the Foundation notes, including some therapeutic exercise and some minor modifications you can make to some of your daily activities. (2)
Many essential oils may also provide safe and effective relief for chronic pain. (3) To understand which essential oils might work best, it’s helpful to understand just exactly what they are, and how your brain processes their scent. We’ve also listed below some precautions you should be aware of before you start using essential oils for arthritis. And we’ve provided you with a recipe so you can make your own arthritis-easing therapeutic massage oil blend, as well as a link to products that contain these great-smelling soothers.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are extracted from the bark, flowers, leaves, stems, and other parts of many species of flowers, herbs, and plants. The raw plant material is compressed over a period of time in a large cylinder under pressure until the volatile oils are expelled as essential oils. These oils are very potent and express their healing properties in many different ways. Certain oils can excite or relax the body’s nervous system, like eucalyptus, bergamot and geranium, and help reduce recovery time from burns, injuries, or trauma, like chamomile, rose and balsam. Ylang-ylang and vanilla essential oils may help your mind relax so you can get a good night’s sleep. (4)
Some oils may be particularly useful in easing arthritis pain, including:
Rosemary essential oil has a fresh, invigorating, pine-like scent. It has been used to treat chronic pain and inflammation since at least 3000 B.C. A 2016 study showed it can reduce pain and depression in arthritic patients. (5)
Peppermint has a high concentration of menthol, which is widely used in over-the-counter pain relieving creams and ointments. Its cool, refreshing scent has been shown to inhibit your body’s pain receptors to help decrease symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. (6) Peppermint’s pleasant aroma may improve your mood, too, which is beneficial for those of us suffering from chronic pain.
Orange essential oil has an uplifting, sweet citrus aroma. In one study, it was found to relieve pain in patients with fractured limbs admitted to the emergency room. (7) As a result, aromatherapy with orange essential oils is an excellent way to increase the efficacy of many complementary therapies, like therapeutic massage.
Like peppermint, Lavender’s anti-inflammatory properties have been found to be effective in relieving the pain associated with osteoarthritis of the knee. (8) Its essential oil has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. Lavender can also have a soothing effect on your mind to help you relax. (9) Put 8-12 drops in a 1-ounce spray bottle filled with water and spritz some on your pillow for a better night's sleep.
Sage essential oil has been used in traditional societies for centuries as a medicinal aid to better health. It has been shown to reduce the severity of arthritis and can also help reduce blood pressure, which may help relieve joint inflammation. (10) Sage essential oil has an earthy, woodsy scent that may also help you relax.
Lemon essential oil has beneficial anti-inflammatory properties. (11) As a result, it can act as a pain reliever in the body. It is thought to convey these healing properties through a complex mixture of terpenes, chemicals within essential oils that give them their unique scents.
Camphor is an FDA-approved topical analgesic and anesthetic used to relieve pain, and is an ingredient in many over-the-counter products to treat symptoms associated with arthritis. Camphor absorbs quickly into the skin to help soothe arthritic joints.
Although not technically an essential oil, studies suggest that topical CBD products may help reduce chronic symptoms associated with arthritis. (12) Many Americans say that CBD has helped ease their arthritis pain. For example, a recent survey by The Arthritis Foundation found that 67 percent of respondents using CBD to manage arthritis symptoms said it improved their physical function; 71 percent said it helped them sleep; and over 30 percent said it provided relief from morning stiffness.(13)
How your brain processes the scent of essential oils
A curious property of essential oils is that they can instantly trigger emotions or memories.
Essential oils travel by your olfactory (sense of smell) nerve directly to your amygdala, the emotional part of your brain. This may explain why certain smells can affect your emotions in a positive way.
So if you smell vanilla essential oil, for instance, you might be immediately brought back to the aroma of Grandma’s house after she baked you a batch of her famous brownies. Inhaling certain essential oils can also have other positive effects on your brain. For example, a 2016 study on the effect of inhaling rosemary essential oil found that it increased short-term memory. (14)
How to avoid unwanted side effects
While most essential oils are considered safe, it’s best to proceed with caution when applying something new to your skin. Follow these guidelines before trying any new product on your body, including essential oils:
- Remember essential oils on their own are extremely potent, and might cause allergic reactions if applied directly on your skin. Always dilute an essential oil with carrier oils like grape seed, jojoba, or olive oil before applying. Then try a small amount on an inconspicuous spot on your body like your calf muscles before applying it over large areas.
- Never take essential oils internally or put them too close to your eyes. If you are pregnant or are trying to conceive, it’s best to avoid using essential oils. Doctors are unsure if there are any possible side-effects associated with essential oils and pregnancy.
- Do not give essential oils to children.
- Some essential oils, like lemon and lime, can react negatively with sun exposure, which can damage your skin. Be sure to avoid direct sunlight after applying essential oils on your body.
Massage oil recipe
Give yourself (or someone you care for) an aromatherapy massage! Try this easy to make essential oil massage blend to help relieve symptoms of knee pain, rheumatoid arthritis, and swollen joints.
You will need a dark colored, 2-ounce plastic or glass bottle for the massage oil, preferably with a small, easy to pour opener.
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of a 100% pure oil, like olive oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, or sweet almond oil
12 drops orange essential oil
6 drops peppermint essential oil
5 drops rosemary essential
4 drops lavender essential oil
Blend all ingredients thoroughly by shaking or stirring vigorously for one-minute. Apply 3-5 times a day, or as needed to the affected area. Special massage tip: Apply a warm compress on the affected right before the application of your massage oil to help the essential oils absorb into your skin. Keep your blend away from direct sunlight and store it in a cool, dry area.
Essential oil blends for sale
If you’d like to try pre-made CBD-infused cooling gels and massage oils, we have a line that includes all the helpful essential oils mentioned here. Our products are made with organically grown American hemp in our FDA-registered facility that follows good manufacturing processes, and they are 3rd party tested for quality. Order today at www.cloud9massagetherapy.com; shipping is always free.