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10 Essential Oils for Pain Relief

By Jodi Cohen

A woman experiencing discomfort, clutching her lower back in pain, highlighted by a red area indicating soreness or injury.

Essential oils can be powerful remedies for relief from pain and inflammation.

As you may know, your experience of pain is triggered by pain receptors – a group of sensory neurons with specialized nerve endings in your skin, deep tissues, like muscles and joints, and most of your organs – which send a message via nerve fibers to your spinal cord and brain stem and then onto your brain where the sensation of pain is registered and pain is perceived. The chemical constituents of essential oils can help modulate your perception and experience of pain.

Essential oils work as analgesics, which means they relieve pain, relax muscles, reduce inflammation and calm your nerves when topically applied. The chemical composition of essential oils – super small and fat soluble – allows them to bind to and inhibit prostaglandin synthesis (the process that creates/signals pain and inflammation). This is the same channel by which nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work.  This might be one reason that essential oils consistently test as effective as over-the-counter pain medications and pharmacological and clinical studies have demonstrated the profile of essential oil compounds as drug candidates.

In addition, smelling essential oils – through your olfactory channel – can also help modulate the perception of pain.

The Smell Pathway for Pain

Your sense of smell is directly connected with your perception of pain.

When you inhale essential oils, the odor molecules travel to the part of the limbic system known as the amygdala.  Your amygdala is both an important mediator for pain reception and the part of your brain most often linked to the emotional aspects of olfaction perception.

Olfactory stimulation can directly activate your amygdala and modulate the perception of chronic pain processing pathways. “This direct connection may be important for survival due to the urgency of interrupting pain reception and danger signals,” according to Sarah A. LoBisco, ND in her Townsend Letter article Olfaction’s Complex Connections of Emotions, Memory, and Pain Perception.

In other words, pain is a perceived signal that is either passed on through descending pain pathways with an associated emotional response or modulated, which can calm pain perception.  Research shows that “pain may result from signaling disturbances in the amygdala… Therefore, it has been suggested that the amygdala may serve as a “hot spot” in supraspinal descending pain control, switching on and off chronic pain.”

“Furthermore, it has been shown that corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) upregulated in the limbic structures is associated with neuropathic pain as well as mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression. This is likely to be independent of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis stimulation. Therefore, olfaction could potentially impact central pain response through modulation of physiological feedback.”

Your sense of smell, and the use of essential oils, is a powerful tool to help switch off the perception of pain.

10 Essential Oils for Pain Relief

The following 10 essential oil blends and single oils can help calm the experience of physical, mental and emotional pain.

1. Parasympathetic®

One of the most well-known essential oils for pain relief is clove oil contained in the Parasympathetic® blend. Clove has been used throughout history to relieve pain. For example, the strong local anesthetic effect of clove oil has been used in dental practices for centuries to numb the gums, teeth, and nerves and relieve pain like toothaches.

Clove oil makes an ideal natural pain-killer due to its anti-inflammation, antispasmodic and analgesic properties.  It can be applied topically to warm muscles and increase circulation which helps reduce pain and ease tension to sore muscles and sprains.

What’s more, clove’s high eugenol content  is thought to block nerve signals that send the message of pain from the body to the brain, thus giving the user a break from pain. Parasympathetic® oil can be used to reduce the body’s inflammatory response (Read More HERE).

Similarly, the warming characteristic of clove oil is thought to provide numbing relief from pain and the antioxidants found in this oil assist in the protection of body cells.  Further, a rat study conducted by the Journal of Planta Medica discovered that a chemical compound present in clove essential oil was successful at recovering nerve functions of rats with diabetic neuropathy.

2. Nerve Repair™

 Nerve Repair™ helps repair damaged nerves, relieve pain, stimulate circulation, ease inflammation and  regenerate new cells.   Formulated from organic and/or wild crafted essential oils known for relieving pain and repairing and regenerating damaged nerves cells and  connective tissue.   For example, basil essential oil is a known nerve tonic, characterized by its analgesic, antidepressant, antispasmodic and balancing properties.  Deemed a divine plant by Hindus in India, basil is a significant ingredient in the treatments used to combat nerve pain and nerve damage.

In a research study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, basil oil was concluded as being particularly helpful in reducing nerve damage symptoms and increasing nerve receptivity. Simultaneously beneficial in calming nerve pain and offering stimulation to nerves, it is regularly used to treat skin conditions, indigestion, stress levels, blood circulation issues, respiratory problems and certain infections. It also helps repair connective tissue.

3. Anti Inflammatory™

Designed to reduce inflammation and encourage regeneration of damaged or stressed connective tissues. Anti Inflammatory™ is especially helpful for calming inflammation in protective tissues around nerves, reducing the inflammatory compression that contributes to nerve pain. Anti Inflammatory™ contains Ylang-ylang which has healing properties that repair nerve damage.  It also includes Frankincense™ which has been shown to improve accurate transmission and communication of messages between the nerves and the brain.  Incorrect messages to the brain’s limbic system can result in nerve pain, so improving the accuracy of signals can eliminate pain. Frankincense™ can also help reduce inflammation and minimize scaring.

Anti Inflammatory™ also contains ginger, an excellent antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation, and kill bacteria to heal infectious areas.   Ginger oil is a rubefacient which means it is warming in nature, which helps dilate your capillaries and an increase blood 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, increase blood flow, bring down inflammation, and relieve achy types of pain when applied topically. Apply 2-3 drops or Anti Inflammatory™ to any inflamed area of the body, or the bottom of the feet, 3x daily.

4. Histamine Balance™

Histamine is a chemical compound released by the cells in response to tissue injury or damage, causing contraction of smooth muscle and dilation of capillaries.

While the release of histamine is a normal defense mechanism, an exaggerated histamine response can bind to cell receptor sites, causing irritation and chronic inflammation. Overactive histamine receptor cells can trigger numerous immune system reactions that can contributes to the generation of pain hypersensitivity.

Modulating or balancing the histamine response can help calm the experience of pain.  Histamine Balance™ blend contains a proprietary formulation of essential oils known to calm the pain response, including  Roman Chamomile, Rosemary, Spruce and Vetiver.

Chamomile oil is a great essential oil with analgesic properties which can soothe the pain in inflamed joints and muscles. A review of the medicinal properties of chamomile found that the plant contains flavonoids which have anti-inflammatory properties. These inflammation-reducing compounds easily penetrate the skin’s surface to reduce inflammation.

Similarly, the analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties of rosemary oil make it a powerful tool for chronic pain relief. The University of Maryland reports that rosemary can help relieve muscle pain and spasms.10 In fact, rosemary essential oil has been approved by the German government for use in pain relief. Rosemary essential oil contains 18% camphor and is what gives it a cooling sensation that reduces inflammation, pain, and muscle spasms when applied topically. Blue tansy essential oil also contains 13% camphor.  The carene, limonene, and pinene constituent of Spruce are anti-inflammatory and support pain relief for swollen and sore joints and muscles. Finally, Vetiver calms inflammation and is particularly good at providing relief from aches and pains, and inflammation in both the circulatory and nervous system.

Apply 1 – 2 drops of Histamine Balance™ behind your ears, on the back of your neck, on your sternum or on the bottom of the feet to calm inflammation and relieve pain.

5. Circulation™

Circulation™ helps support the delivery of oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the site of injury to help speed healing and pain relief.  Formulated to support healthy circulation to deliver oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the body and the brain, while simultaneously carrying toxins and waste away from the cells to be eliminated, Circulation™ blend may help open the vasculature to allow for optimal blood flow to both carry healing oxygen and nutrients to cells and allow a painful and inflamed area to heal faster.

Circulation™ contains powerful oils known to support bone repair, including Cypress oil which is an anti-spasmodic known to improve circulation and reduce fatigue and stress. Similarly, Nutmeg oil soothes pain which research proving the anti-inflammatory properties in reducing pain and swelling.

Black pepper is known as one of the best oils for alleviating deep tissue pain by warming muscles and increasing blood flow to the injury while reducing inflammation and pain. Black Pepper in combination with ginger essential oil in the Circulation™ helps enhance circulation, reduces inflammation and block pain.  The heat of these oils is known to speed up the healing process.

Apply 2- 3 drops of Circulation™ on the sides or back of the neck, over the left clavicle, on the wrists or ankles to help increase blood flow.

6. Lymph™

Supporting the movement of lymphatic fluid helps to stimulate healing in injured areas.  The lymphatic system is critical for moving metabolic waste, toxins and infections out of the cells via the lymphatic fluid.  It serves a dual role as a detoxification pathway and an important part of the immune system to help heal injuries.  Interstitial lymph fluid permeates every part of the body and flows through the lymph nodes where toxins are filtered out, acting as a pre-filter for the liver to prevent clogging and liver overload.  The lymphatic system also helps carry nutrients, oxygen, hormones and other healing substances into every cell.

Unfortunately, the lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump and lymphatic fluid can accumulate and stagnate (learn more about the Lymphatic System here).  This stagnation can be due to an overload of acidity, animal protein, gluten, infection, toxins or adhesions of the connective tissue, such as scars.

The more you can help the lymph fluid flow, the more quickly you can heal injuries and remove toxins that contribute to pain and inflammation out of the body.  To support lymphatic drainage and movement, generously apply Lymph™ around the sides of the neck, under the left clavicle, in the arm pits, and the groin.  For more tips to improve lymphatic function, read this article.

7. Peppermint™

Possesses analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties that relieve aches, pain and inflammation as well as calm the spasms that cause muscle cramps, making it an ideal natural treatment for nerve pain.  In fact, a 2002  study attributed Peppermint™ oil’s dramatic analgesic influence to the relief of neuropathic pain in a 76-year old woman.

 Peppermint™ contains menthol, a cooling phenol that has powerful pain-blocking, anti-inflammatory, and antispasmodic properties. Menthol naturally warms the skin and muscles to improve circulation in the area of numbness or discomfort.  This improved blood circulation stimulates the nerves and helps to heal damaged and injured nerves.  Although other mints have a cooling analgesic affect, peppermint has by far the highest concentration. Peppermint™ can be purchased as both a single oil or as part of the Nerve Repair™ blend.

8. Helichrysum™

Reknown for its pain relieving properties and ability to accelerate healing, Helichrysum™ helps to strengthen the nervous system, relieving nerve pain while regenerating and healing damaged nerves. Known for its antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and mild sedative properties, Helichrysum™ has been used historically as a treatment for muscle spasms, decreasing nerve pain, helping repair connective tissue and reducing swelling and inflammation both inside and outside the body.

You can even apply Helichrysum™ oil directly to an injury to reduce muscle pain and prevent bruising.

The Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology found that the pain-relieving power of helichrysum work by reducing inflammatory enzymes and reducing swelling.  As it helps rebuild cells, it may be beneficial in nerve regeneration following injury or in the treatment of peripheral neuropathy, shingles, nerve pain related to burns and even hearing damage caused by nerves. We sell Helichrysum™ as both a single oil (my mother swears by it) and as part of our Nerve Repair™ blend. As we only work with the highest quality oil from Corsica, our single oil is a very expensive oil.

 9. Lavender™

Helps relieve physical and mental pain, improving mood and aiding with relaxation and sleep. Lavender™ possesses analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsant and antispasmodic properties, making it a great choice for calming pain.  It is known to increase blood circulation, reduce inflammation, and calm nervous tension and nerve pain.  Lavender™ also helps to soothe other symptoms associated with physical injuries, such as headaches, migraines, nausea, and depression.  Research backs this up, finding that applying Lavender™ oil topically for pain relief was just as effective as some pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories and analgesics.

Research found that Lavender™ effectively reduced pain immediately after the treatment, and remained lowered at 1 week post-treatment. Lavender™ also helps calm anxiety and relieve nervous tension to makes pain from the injury more manageable.

Inhaling lavender also had a morphine-like effect in patients recovering from surgery. The study also found that lavender was effective in reducing migraine pain and relieving lower back pain and neck pain.

Unlike other essential oils which should be mixed with a carrier oil before using on the skin, Lavender™ oil is mild enough to be placed directly on small areas of the skin without being diluted. However if you have a sensitive skin, or use lavender oil on a larger area of your skin, it is best to dilute it.

10. Frankincense™

Known for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic and sedative properties, Frankincense™ has been shown to improve accurate transmission and communication of messages between the nerves and the brain. Incorrect sensory messages can result in nerve pain, so improving the accuracy of signals can eliminate pain.

The Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2016 published a study showing how Frankincense™ has pain-reducing qualities. The oil works to block COX-2 (an enzyme connected with inflammation) and “exhibits significant anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.”

In a 2003 study, patients with osteoarthritis knee pain were given either frankincense essential oil or a placebo.  The group that was given the frankincense essential oil reported improved knee movement, better range of motion, increased ability to walk for longer distances, and an overall significant decrease in knee pain.


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About The Author

Jodi Cohen

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.