Essential Oils For Arthritis
Arthritis is a serious and crippling disability that affects millions of people around the globe. Often arthritis is not given the full respect it deserves as many people will write it off merely as ‘joint pain’.
But while arthritis may not get the same attention as some other more ‘glamorous’ illnesses, it can nevertheless be life changing for those who suffer with it in a profoundly negative way. In some cases, arthritis merely affects your ability to walk, your ability to enjoy your favorite hobbies or even simply things like making dinner or feeding yourself.
In fact, arthritis is the number one cause of disability in the US and there are many charities that exist around the world to provide ongoing support to those suffering with the condition. Specifically, more than 20 million people suffer from the condition to the extent that they are classified as disabled.
Unfortunately, there is also no cure for arthritis and rather the condition can only be managed using a number of drugs with varying degrees of success (and varying side effects). With all this in mind then, some people have become interested in turning to a different solution: essential oils.
What is Arthritis?
First, let’s take a look at what exactly arthritis is and how it works.
Arthritis is a condition that can have a number of causes and which leads to pain and discomfort, a loss of feeling in the fingers or feet, nerve damage and potentially severe deformity. There are actually over 100 different ‘forms’ of arthritis with each one acting slightly different. Osteoarthritis is the most common and is usually the result of trauma to the joint, aging or infection (septic arthritis is another form of arthritis caused by infection).
Other forms of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease and psoriatic arthritis. In these forms, arthritis is actually caused by the body’s own immune system attacking itself, which leads to inflammation and discomfort.Usually, arthritis will manifest first in the hand, wrist, legs, back or spine. Other symptoms can also affect the general health of the individual – including weight loss, poor sleep, muscle pain, tenderness, tiredness and malaise.
So if you find yourself suffering from these symptoms, chances are you’ll visit a doctor and be given a diagnosis of arthritis. As mentioned though, there is no ‘cure’ so treatments are aimed instead at managing the condition, slowing its progression and reducing pain.
Common approaches include:
- Physiotherapy/gentle exercise (often practiced in warm water) to smooth the joint and strengthen supporting muscle
- Immunosuppressants to reduce the immune response
- Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling such as NSAIDS, cox-2 inhibitors
- Analgeiscs to manage pain
- Antibiotics to combat any infection
- Braces and supports to aid the healthy movement of the joints
- DMARDS (disease-modifying medicines) to help treat arthritis where it is caused by the immune system
- Biological response modifiers (BRMs) to inhibit cytokine proteins that contribute to inflammation
While all these things can have positive effects, none will be able to cure or reverse arthritis and many will have other unpleasant complications of their own. NSAIDS for example take a long time to exert a positive benefit and may cause stomach complaints.
The only treatment that comes close to providing a ‘cure’ at this point is arthroplasty. This is surgery used to completely remove and replace the joint with an artificial one. This can eliminate the problem depending on the type of arthritis by removing damaged joints that are wearing each other away and by preventing swelling.
Arthroplasty is highly invasive however, dangerous and not always feasible. This is only a solution to be used in rare instances and should be considered the ‘last resort’.
How to Use Essential Oils for Arthritis
And that’s where essential oils come in. So what is the general idea here?
Well, seeing as there is no cure for arthritis that is not what you should come in expected. Anyone pedaling oils or anything else as a cure for the condition is selling snake oil and you should be very wary buying from them.
Instead, the idea of essential oils is to help relax the body, ease the pain and help offer some relief. They can be used on top of other methods such as physio and drugs, or they can be used as a natural alternative for those who would rather not deal with unpleasant side effects.
Even better is that several essential oils can be either anaesthetic or antiseptic in nature. This means they can actually reduce swelling to some degree and numb the pain. Everyone is different and your mileage may vary; but if you’ve tried just about everything then this is definitely one more avenue to try.
There are a number of different ways that you can use essential oils to provide relief and each method will be better suited to specific scenarios and cases.
The most common three ways to use essential oils for arthritis are:
Blend 20 drops of your chosen essential oil and two ounces of carrier oil. Now apply gently over the area where you experience pain. Be careful when using ‘hot’ oils like peppermint which can potentially cause a burning sensation.
If possible, ask a friend or partner to massage the oils into the affected area. Otherwise, you can apply them yourself gently if you can reach. Here the massage itself might also offer some relief by helping you to relax and by distracting from the discomfort.
A warm bath can be a very effective way to ease arthritis pain on its own but it becomes even more effective when you add essential oils into the mix. Just use 10-20 drops of essential oil along with two cups of Epsom salt. Add this to the bath and then relax.
#3 Hot Compress
A third option is to use a heating pad which is fantastic at offering relief. Just apply a little essential oil to the pad and apply with gentle press to the region.
Best Essential Oils for Arthritis
Now you know what arthritis is and how it can be combated with essential oils, all that’s left is to decide which essential oils you’re going to use!
The good news is that there are a wide range of different options available and you will probably find that you have particular favorites that work especially well for you. Some of the best are:
Eucalyptus oil is an antiseptic, anti-spasmodic and yes, anti-inflammatory oil. It is also somewhat volatile in its nature though and for that reason it’s important to weaken it with a ratio of about 1:1 using a carrier oil.
As mentioned before, peppermint oil is a ‘hot’ oil. That means it can be somewhat burning almost on the skin, though it also feels ‘cooling’ at the same time which is thanks to the presence of l-menthol. This sensation can actually be quite refreshing when you’re feeling physically low and is effective at distracting from the pain. It also has natural pain relieving properties and is an anti-inflammatory agent. Like eucalyptus though, it is also very strong when it isn’t diluted, so it’s important you combine it with a carrier oil.
Lavender oil is well known for being relaxing and is also somewhat mood boosting. It’s sleep promoting and is useful for reducing soreness and inflammation. It reportedly does this by increasing oxygenation and circulation around the joints. Mix 5-10 drops with warm olive oil and massage or add to bath water.
Rosemary oil is popular for arthritis as well as for muscle pain and improving circulation. It’s a general analgesic so it can be useful for all kinds of discomfort and works especially well in the bath.
Traditionally, marjoram essential oil has been used for treating bruises, muscle spasms and stiff joints. It is also very calming to smell and is a muscle relaxant. This makes it fantastic for helping with sleep and for reducing muscle tension that can exacerbate discomfort caused by arthritis. Apply gently before bed for the best results – but keep away from broken skin.
Chamomile oil comes from the chamomile plant flower as you might suspect. It is anti-rheumatic and anti-phlogistic and may improve circulation. Some sources say that it can also ‘detoxify the blood’ – but be sceptical of this. Generally the word ‘detox’ is a warning sign of pseudoscience!
Very popular in Ayurvedic medicine, Sandalwood oil is popular for treating sciatica and muscle spasms. It is anti-inflammatory and relaxing and is commonly used on the feet.
Other popular choices include:
- Clary sage oil
- Ginger oil
- Yarrow oil
- Frankincense oil
- Wintergreen oil
Note that this is not a suitable alternative to medical treatment but can be used as an effective form of pain relief with no unwanted side effects. And best of all? It’s very relaxing and calming in its own right too!
Give it a go, you have nothing to lose!