Can You Use Essential Oils to Relieve Arthritis Pain?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

The basics

Today, essential oils are often used in aromatherapy. This practice uses essential oils to engage your sense of smell and promote a balanced physiological response. People who use aromatherapy often report feelings of relaxation, reduced stress, and comfort.

You may also use essential oils with other forms of alternative treatments like acupuncture or massage. Some people use essential oils along with standard treatments like pain medication and other therapies recommended by their doctor.

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Although more research is needed, there’s evidence to suggest certain oils can be used to relieve some arthritis symptoms. Keep reading to find out which oils may be beneficial and how to use them.

What the research says

Depending on the type and severity of your arthritis, you may experience a number of physical symptoms. These can include:

    pain
  • stiffness
  • tenderness
  • swelling
  • visible inflammation
  • fatigue

Research connecting relief from arthritis symptoms to the use of essential oils is limited, but there is some supporting evidence.

Physical symptoms

Research has shown that turmeric essential oil has anti-inflammatory properties. A 2010 animal study assessed it’s anti-arthritic effects. Researchers found that treatment with turmeric essential oil was 95 to 100 percent effective at preventing joint swelling in animals with induced arthritis.

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They also found that when treatment was delayed until after acute inflammation peaked, the essential oil was 68 percent effective at relieving it. One thing to note is that researchers injected essential oil into rats for this study. This isn’t advised for humans. Instead, consider inhaling the scent or applying the diluted oil to the affected area.

Research also shows ginger and basil essential oils have anti-inflammatory properties. When diluted and applied topically, these essential oils may also help relieve arthritis pain.

Emotional side effects

If your arthritis symptoms are causing you to feel distressed or anxious, consider using lavender essential oil. This oil is one of the most researched. And it’s considered to be one of the best for stress relief. According to a 2012 review, lavender oil proved effective in managing anxiety in small- to medium- size clinical trials.

Arthritis.org also reported findings by the Columbia University Medical Center on the use of vanilla essential oil for stress relief. Study participants inhaled the scent while completing stress tests. The group that inhaled the vanilla essential oil had more stable heart rates and blood pressure levels than the control group.

How to use essential oils for arthritis

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Essential oils can be used to treat arthritis symptoms in a few ways. You can apply diluted essential oil to the affected area. But there are a few things you should keep in mind before applying it.

First, you should always dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil. Essential oils are potent, and direct application may cause irritation. Common carrier oils include:

  • coconut
  • jojoba
  • olive

Risks and warnings

Although essential oils are generally regarded as safe, minor side effects are possible. You should always dilute your essential oil before applying it topically. Applying undiluted essential oil to the skin may cause irritation.

It’s also important to do a skin patch test to ensure that your skin won’t have any adverse reaction to the mixture.

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You may also experience side effects when practicing aromatherapy. It’s possible to develop a headache or become nauseous.

Other treatments for arthritis

Traditionally, treatment for arthritis aims to improve joint movement and eliminate pain and swelling. Your doctor will likely recommend a combination of treatments that include different medications and physical therapy. Surgery is typically used as a last resort.

Medications for arthritis typically focus on reducing pain and inflammation. These medications may include:

  • OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen
  • prescription pain relievers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone
  • topical creams or ointments containing menthol or capsaicin
  • corticosteroids, such as prednisone and cortisone

You may also be prescribed medications specific to your type of arthritis. These may include disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to reduce or prevent your immune system from attacking your joints. DMARDs are usually used along with biologic response modifiers that target the proteins involved in your immune response.

If surgery is necessary, your doctor may recommend joint repair, replacement, or fusion procedures.

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