For arthritis sufferers, it may seem like there is no hope or relief for the debilitating pain beyond pharmaceutical drugs.
Essential oils may offer a safe, natural option for arthritic pain, especially without the side effects of medication. Most prescription drugs used for the treatment of chronic pain can lead to dependence or cause respiratory issues, drowsiness, constipation and liver problems – the last two compromise health because they slow down the body’s natural detoxification efforts.
Symptoms of arthritis include painful swelling, inflammation and stiffness of the joints. Some research does point to certain actives in particular essential oils that act as anti-inflammatories and provide temporary pain relief, but they do not reverse damage if the condition has progressed to the point of destruction of joint structures. Essential oils are not in themselves medicines, and are not meant to treat, cure or prevent disease.
There are two main types of arthritis:
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition caused when the cartilage that cushions and lubricates the joints starts to break down. It is the result of wear and tear on the joints and more common with age. Bone-on-bone contact causes inflammation and pain in the bone and surrounding area.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the synovial membrane, the lining that surrounds and protects the entire joint, and other connective tissue in the joint. This leads to inflammation in the joint and deterioration of cartilage and bone, which can be painful and limit mobility. Rheumatoid arthritis can happen at a much earlier age than is typical for osteoarthritis.
Going back centuries, Ayurvedic doctors and the earliest holistic healers made incense, oils, salves and poultices from a variety of aromatic botanicals. Research supports that some essential oils may act as circulatory stimulants, anti-inflammatories and also have properties for eliminating toxins, increasing circulation and lymph flow.
Some of the best essential oils for arthritis and its associated pain include:
Aloe Vera: Known to reduce inflammation and good for pain relief.
Bay Leaf: Helps relieve pain and inflammation and remove toxins.
Cedarwood: Helps decongest the lymph system and improve poor circulation. Long used by Ayurvedic and Tibetan traditions in their medicines, cedarwood oil can be used as aromatherapy or during massage therapy to ease arthritis pain.
Chamomile: Well-known for its effective anti-inflammatory properties and to reduce muscle pain.
Clary sage: Has calming and soothing properties, as well as anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties. Helps to ease muscle tension, spasms.
Cypress: Anti-rheumatic and anti-arthritic, it also helps increase circulation and eliminate toxins.
Eucalyptus: This oil has great analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Good for muscle pain and nerve pain.
Frankincense: Helps relieve muscle aches and pain and also acts as a mild sedative. A number of studies confirm that frankincense can help ease knee pain caused by arthritis. Researchers at Cardiff University in Wales believe that the extract from the plant inhibits the production of molecules that cause inflammation and break down cartilage tissue.
Juniper: Has antispasmodic and pain relieving properties
Lavender: Most common essential oil for pain relief and relaxation. It has anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and sedative properties and it helps to relieve muscle tension, spasms and joint pain.
Lemon: Helps reduce inflammation of joints.
Marjoram: Historically this oil has been used for muscle spasms, sprains, stiff joints, arthritis, rheumatism, osteoarthritis and bruises.
Mustard seed: Works for joint pain relief and circulation. The heat the salve produces may help improve blood flow to the area.
Myrrh: Calms the spirit and relaxes the body to speed up the healing process. Also soothing to inflamed joints. Myrrh is found in abundance in the Middle East, where it is valued for its anti-inflammatory effects.
Peppermint: Peppermint is also anti-inflammatory and has so many uses, especially for digestive issues, but also has been used for muscle and joint pain, rheumatism and arthritis.
Rosemary: This is another versatile oil known to be analgesic and anti-inflammatory for arthritis pain. Good for back pain, muscle and joint pain.
Tea Tree: Helps relieve the pain and inflammation of arthritis.
Thyme: Antispasmodic, good for joint and muscle pain as well as backache.
Vetiver: Used for general aches and pains, especially for rheumatism, arthritis and muscular pain. Not well-known in the west, vetiver has been used since ancient times in Ayurvedic medicine. The essential oil is extracted from the roots of a grass known as Vetiveria zizanoides, which belongs to the same botanical family as lemongrass and citronella.
Wintergreen: Another analgesic and anti-inflammatory oil good for inflammation and pain.
Essential oils quickly and easily penetrate cell membranes and may provide oxygen, nutrients and lipids to injured and inflamed joints. However, they are also very potent and not recommended for internal use or approved by the FDA to use as medicine.
Essential oils act on both mind and body. You can massage the oils on the joints affected by arthritis, add them to a bath and soak 10-20 minutes or use a relaxing oil such as lavender on your pillow to help slow the nervous system and promote a good night’s sleep.
Essential oils are highly concentrated and should be used as directed. It’s best to consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner or aromatherapist for the best oils for your condition. It is also important to pay attention to dosage, purity, administration, and possible interactions with other medications. Some oils should be diluted with a carrier oil due to their potency or for those with sensitive skin. Follow topical oils with moist heat or heat pad for deeper penetration.