5 Best Essential Oils for Muscle Pain

Are you suffering from lower back pain after a workout or a hard day on the job? Perhaps you have achy muscles that haven’t fully adapted to a new exercise routine.

Most people will experience muscle soreness at one time or another. When that happens, they search for effective pain relief.

Essential oils might not be the first pain relief measure to cross your mind. However, numerous scientific studies suggest they have potential as a supplementary treatment. We cover the best essential oils for pain relief. Our guide also covers topical solutions and aromatherapy massages.

What is Aromatherapy?

Essential oils are a part of the complementary health practice known as aromatherapy. A person breathes in the scent from the essential oils, adds a few drops to a bath, or applies a diluted form to their skin. Sometimes massage therapy for chronic pain conditions or anxiety incorporates essential oil blends.

Some people use aromatherapy to alleviate insomnia, though there’s little research to substantiate how helpful this approach is.

We advise caution when you use topical essential oils on your skin and do not apply them near your eyes. Some may cause skin irritation or poison you if absorbed. Signs of poisoning include:

  • Excessively large or small pupils
  • Slowed or quickened breathing and heartbeat
  • Dry mouth or drooling
  • Sleepiness or hyperactivity
  • Stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Slurring your words

We also strongly recommend you do not ingest essential oils without a doctor’s approval. Many oils are poisonous if swallowed and meant for external use only.

For example, peppermint oil is often used for an upset stomach. However, too much can cause damage to your kidneys. Peppermint oil can also interact with certain medications, so check with your doctor first.

Essential oils and aromatherapy can affect others around you. Be cautious when using them and keep them away from curious children or pets.

What is a Carrier Oil?

You mix a carrier oil with an essential oil so you can apply it topically without risking a rash or inflammation. Carrier oils should have a neutral scent to prevent interference with your chosen essential oil. Some types have a better shelf life than others.

Potential carrier oils include:

  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Jojoba oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Apricot kernel oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Argan oil
  • Rosehip oil
  • Sweet almond oil (not recommended for those with nut allergies)
  • Cocoa butter (may need to melt first)
  • Shea butter

You should not use mineral oils and derivatives, such as petroleum jelly. Dairy-based butter, margarine, and vegetable shortening should also not be used as carrier oils. Combining with water or other liquids will not make the essential oils mild enough for your skin.

When mixing carrier oils with essential oils, use about one to five drops of essential oil with a teaspoon of carrier oil.

Lavender Essential Oil

Recent studies suggest that inhaling lavender oil can relieve pain. It also has analgesic properties when applied topically.

A 2012 study examined migraine patients, split into case and control groups. The case group inhaled lavender oil for 15 minutes, while the control group inhaled paraffin oil. Patients recorded their headache severity, with the control group reporting a drop in headache severity.

A 2013 study examined children who inhaled lavender oil after a tonsillectomy. The study evaluated patients ages 6 to 12 who received acetaminophen for pain. The case group inhaled lavender oil, while the control group did not.

The case group relied less on acetaminophen. However, they experienced the same pain intensity and nocturnal wakings as the control group.

A 2015 study suggests that lavender oil can be an effective pain reliever and anti-inflammatory agent when applied topically.

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil has menthol, which can provide a cool feeling when applied to sore muscles. However, too much menthol can cause skin and eye irritation. In extreme cases, you may develop a chemical burn after using too much peppermint oil.

Make sure to dilute peppermint oil with a carrier oil before you apply it to your skin. Remember that peppermint oil can be dangerous if ingested. Always consult your healthcare provider before you take peppermint oil orally.

Black Pepper Oil

Black pepper oil can warm up your body when it’s applied, providing pain relief. Plus, it offers other benefits.

A 2013 study concluded black pepper oil is an effective antibacterial agent against E. coli. Adding black pepper oil to your diet may also help manage or prevent type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

Eucalyptus Oil

Eucalyptus is commonly found in over-the-counter topical relief. Making your own topical mixture at home may have similar effects.

You may not even have to apply the oil to your skin. A 2013 study examined the pain responses of knee replacement patients who inhaled eucalyptus oil. The study concluded that inhaling eucalyptus oil not only reduced pain but also blood pressure.

Rose Essential Oil

A 2013 study investigated rose oil’s potential as a supplementary therapy for renal colic relief. Eighty patients in an emergency room were included in the study, half receiving conventional treatment and the other half receiving aromatherapy and conventional treatment. The aromatherapy group reported lower pain after therapy.

How to Give Yourself an Aromatherapy Massage

Using therapeutic essential oils in a massage can relieve muscle soreness, along with anxiety and depression symptoms. Women may also find that a massage soothes menstrual cramps.

Mix up a massage oil with a relaxing scent. Some popular choices are lavender, chamomile, jasmine, rose, and bergamot. Double-check the product label for warnings such as “Not intended for pregnant or nursing women.”

Test the oil with a drop or two on your skin. If you don’t experience a reaction after a day, you can apply it as massage oil after diluting it.

When massaging yourself, keep your movements light so that you don’t stimulate your blood circulation—otherwise, you might find relaxation difficult. Work from bottom to top, focusing on your feet, legs, wrists, and temples.

You can also research if a spa in your local area offers professional aromatherapy massages. Alternatively, unwind with an aromatherapy bath or a spritz of an essential oil-water blend to your bedding.

Frequently Asked Quesitons

Do essential oils really work for pain?

Various studies do suggest that essential oils can relieve pain. However, we can’t guarantee inhaling their scent or a deep muscle massage will work for you. You can always try other remedies such as a hot/cold pack or over-the-counter medication.

Is it ok to exercise with sore muscles?

Yes, it’s okay to exercise with sore muscles. Sore muscles often result from physical activity stressing muscle tissues. Minor pain is a sign that your muscles are adapting to your workout routine.

You can structure your weekly workout routine and give your muscles time to rest. You can focus on your legs one day and do a core workout routine the next day. This way, you give stiff and aching muscles a break while maintaining a healthy body.

Stretching before you exercise will also reduce your chances of post-workout soreness. Allow 10 minutes or so after exercising to cool down with a jog or walk, followed by more light stretches.

What is the best home remedy for joint pain?

Though it may sound counterintuitive, exercise is a great way to relieve joint pain. Avoiding painful movements can weaken your muscles, worsening joint pain and your posture. Temporary relief measures such as heat or cold packs and essential oils are just that—temporary.

The right exercises can strengthen muscles and improve flexibility. This helps you manage joint pain and delay or even avoid corrective surgery. There are other benefits as well, such as better heart health and improved cognition.

What is better for muscle pain, heat or ice?

This may require a bit of experimentation on your part, as both heat and cold can soothe sore muscles.

However, many experts recommend ice or a cold pack for inflammation to reduce blood flow. The cold brings swelling down in the affected area. Heat increases blood flow, so it's excellent for stiffness or muscle spasms.

So if you have a sprained ankle, you might want to reach for an ice pack, while sore back muscles can benefit from applied heat.

What should I eat for sore muscles?

After a workout, try consuming a dairy product such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, or even just a glass of milk. Milk contains carbs, proteins, fats, and natural sugars. A serving of cottage cheese and Greek yogurt usually contain high amounts of lean protein.

For some sweetness, add fresh fruit. Greek yogurt with berries is also one of our top recommendations for healthy workplace snacks as a quick pick-me-up.

You can drink tart cherry juice, which is also on our list of best foods for sleep because of its melatonin content. Cherry juice fights inflammation, and pure juice lacks potentially unhealthy added sugars. A 2010 study found that marathon runners who drank cherry juice for days before and after a race experienced better recovery.

Did We Help?

Essential oils have a wide variety of applications. You can benefit just from having a diffuser scenting your room, or you might want to try rubbing a topical mixture on your skin. Remember that it’s meant as a supplementary measure and shouldn’t be your only method when it comes to seeking pain relief.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

Sarah Anderson, Editor-in-Chief Sarah Anderson

Sarah Anderson is a sleep, health, and wellness writer and product reviewer. She has written articles on changing and improving your sleep schedule, choosing the right mattress for chronic pain conditions, and finding the best pillow for you. Sarah Anderson has her Bachelor of Arts degree from Arizona State University in Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to working for Zoma, she wrote for a variety of news publications.

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