If there’s one thing no one likes to experience, it’s pain in any form. Whether it’s sharp and intense or dull and achy, pain can cause us to go to great lengths to relieve it including taking unhealthy over the counter medications.
I’ve been doing some intense workouts lately and while it’s tempting to reach for a pill to relieve sore muscle pain, I’ve found that using a few supplements along with powerful analgesic essential oils does the trick perfectly.
Essential Oils for Pain Relief
Unlike narcotics such as morphine and codeine that bind to opioid receptors, essential oils inhibit prostaglandin synthesis (the process that creates/signals pain and inflammation). In many cases, essential oils have been proven to be just as effective as OTC pain medications without the addiction or harmful chemicals.
Please keep in mind that some essential oils can react to medicines you may be taking and should also not be used while pregnant or breastfeeding unless you’re under the guidance of a health care professional. Please do your research!
The Best Pain Relieving Essential Oils
The essential oils listed here are my top picks for pain that is mostly musculoskeletal in nature. However, there are a few in here that are well suited for nerve pain too. This is just a nice general list to get you started 🙂
One of the most well-known essential oils for pain relief is clove. Clove has a strong local anesthetic effect that relieves toothache and had been used in dental practices for centuries to numb the gums, teeth, and nerves. This is due to clove’s high eugenol content (a whopping 80%) which is known to block sensory receptors that send pain signals to the brain.
To use clove for toothache, simply soak one end of a q-tip with clove essential oil then apply on the affected tooth and the surrounding tissue. If possible, try to carefully dab the clove oil directly into the cavity. The pain will be relieved for several hours according to The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils.
Keep in mind that clove is a hot oil and should only be used highly diluted for children and sensitive adults.
Clove can also be used in warming muscle rubs, balms, and massage oils to ease tension and increase circulation to sore muscles and sprains.
Other essential oils that contain eugenol are:
Even though the above oils can work in a pinch, the best pain relief can be achieved using clove essential oil as it has the highest eugenol content.
Wintergreen essential oil is another popular choice for pain relief. It contains methyl salicylate, a compound that reduces pain and inflammation. The cooling effect of wintergreen essential oil makes it a welcome addition to muscle rubs, balms, and ointments for soothing muscle pain, spasms, and tension.
As a word of caution, wintergreen should not be used at more than 5% dilution or by those who take blood-thinning medication as it will enhance their effect. If you are taking medications that contain methyl salicylate, then you should not use wintergreen essential oil. Also, keep in mind that you MUST use a high quality trusted source for wintergreen as synthetic wintergreen essential oil is toxic.
The only other plant I know of that naturally contains methyl salicylate is birch.
Wintergreen is a key ingredient in my magnesium bath bomb recipe as it cools and soothes inflammation in the muscles.
Not only does rosemary essential oil have an excellent reputation for stimulating hair growth, a sharp memory, and treating acne, it’s also an amazing oil for pain relief. Rosemary essential oil (the camphor dominant variety – Rosmarinus officinalis ct. camphor) contains 18% camphor and has a sharp camphoraceous smell rather than a strong rosemary smell like the other chemotypes of rosemary.
This camphor constituent is what gives it a cooling sensation that reduces inflammation, pain, and muscle spasms when applied topically. It’s especially nice to use for muscular knots and arthritic pain.
Adding 4 drops to 1oz of carrier oil is effective for massage.
Other essential oils that contain the ketone camphor include:
These statistics were taken from The Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple.
Peppermint essential oil contains menthol, a cooling phenol that has powerful pain-blocking, anti-inflammatory, and antispasmodic properties. Throughout history, peppermint has been used for treating spasms of the muscles and intestinal tract and has over the years, been found to relieve surface pain and tension of the neck and head that respond well to cold. If you ever experience a tension headache, peppermint is the essential oil perfectly suited for your needs!
Although other mints have a cooling analgesic affect, peppermint has by far the highest concentration.
Conifer Essential Oils
There are a few great essential oils that come from pines that have an affinity for pain relief due to their carene, limonene, and pinene content. Some of the most notable are cypress, black spruce, white fir, balsam fir, scotch pine, and Canadian Hemlock (aka Tsuga canadensis). These conifer oils offer pain relief for swollen and sore joints and muscles, are anti-inflammatory, and are generally very good for soothing aches and rheumatic pains. They are warming grounding oils that help relieve mental and physical fatigue and may be slightly sedating in nature.
Conifer essential oils are wonderful additions to muscle rubs, balms, oils, and bubble bath.
Ginger essential oil is rubefacient and is therefore warming in nature and stimulates circulation. It’s particularly good for chronic joint pain, stiff muscles, and tendons and ligaments that need softening. Ginger works by directly inhibiting vanilloid receptors to soothe nerve pain and bring down inflammation when applied topically. I find it especially helpful for back pain.
If you have pain that is alleviated by heat, try 4 drops of ginger essential oil diluted in 1TB carrier oil and gently massage the area. Black pepper essential oil is a welcome companion as well, especially for sciatic pain. Together, they work to increase blood flow, bring down inflammation, and relieve achy types of pain. Add 2 drops of black pepper essential oil to the 4 drops of ginger in 1TB of carrier oil.
Yes, cayenne essential oil sounds like hell in a bottle and I assure you it can be! However, don’t miss out on cayenne’s amazing affinity for soothing severe nerve, rheumatic, and chronic aches and pains in soft tissues. When applied consistently over a period of time, cayenne will actually saturate the tissue and inhibit inflammation and pain. Over time with continued use, most people can skip topical application for several days without experiencing symptoms. Cayenne essential oil can bring great relief for those with shingles, sciatica, and severe arthritis.
To use it, blend 1 drop at a time in 1oz of carrier oil to find a strength that is comfortable for you. I find that just one or two drops is more than enough.
Also, treat this oil as you would the fresh peppers. Don’t touch your eyes or other sensitive areas! Use the massage oil twice daily for best results.
Black pepper essential oil is one of the best for alleviating deep tissue pain by increasing blood flow to the injury while reducing inflammation and pain. I like to use it for deep bruises that ache, pulled muscles, deep knots, and tension that refuses to let go. Black pepper essential oil is a focused oil for focused pain.
Mixing it with a bit of ginger essential oil will enhance circulation if the pain lessens with heat. Try 4 drops ginger with 2 drops of black pepper in 1oz of carrier oil for a pain relieving massage oil.
Spike lavender essential oil is a wonderful oil to use when you need both gentle pain relief and peace of mind. Just like the lavender we know and love, spike lavender can reduce stress, help you sleep, and calm the mind. The main difference between spike lavender and traditional lavender is its camphor content which is significantly higher than regular lavender. This camphor content is what gives it its analgesic properties.
I find spike lavender to be well suited for treating headaches and aches and pains associated with arthritis. It’s also great for use at night when pain keeps you awake and rest is needed. Use it in conjunction with other essential oils in this article that match what you need for enhanced results. For example, I like to use it with conifer oils and a drop of black pepper for muscular pain at night.
Essential Oils for Pain Relief – Honorable Mentions
Here’s a few more great essential oils to consider for various types of pain relief.
Eucalyptus essential oil is cooling and soothes areas of heat and swelling. It is analgesic in nature and makes for a wonderful addition to muscles rubs, bath salts, and massage oils for sore muscles and nerve pain.
Along with relieving anxiety and stress, German chamomile essential oil is another excellent remedy for oral pain and is considered a great remedy for teething. It is often used in massage for treating aches and pains, inflamed joints, sprains, and inflamed tendons.
Also known as everlasting and immortel, helichrysum essential oil is an amazing oil to have in your arsenal as it has reputed anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. In fact, if you’re quick enough, applying a drop of undiluted helichrysum to a stubbed toe right after it happens is said to reduce pain instantly and dramatically. I have never been able to hobble fast enough to the medicine cabinet to try it myself, but it’s worth noting! You can also use helichrysum for rheumatic pain, inflamed skin conditions, and even severe wounds while on your way to the hospital.
Juniper essential oil has an antispasmodic effect on smooth muscle tissue making it perfect for lower back pain, menstrual cramps, and tense muscles. It has a warming quality that increases circulation to cold and damp tissues that are enlivened and restored by heat.
Marjoram essential oil has warming properties that make it useful for dispersing bruises, chilly hands and feet, and stagnant tissues. It is also good for muscle spasms, rheumatic pains, sprains, and strains.
Sandalwood essential oil is cooling in nature making it well suited for hot, irritated, and inflamed conditions that are relieved by cold. It’s sedating, reduces nerve pain, and relieves muscle spasms (some say it’s a cure for hiccups when a few drops are mixed in carrier oil and massaged on the throat and diaphragm). Sandalwood is also great for draining the lymphatic system.
Thyme essential oil has an affinity for gout, rheumatic, arthritic, and sporting injuries where there is a fixed contracted or cramping type of pain. Its warming properties also sooth back pain when the muscles are tight and won’t let go.
Be sure to check out my post on essential oils for inflammation too! 🙂
What have been your favorite essential oils for aches and pains?
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