What You Need To Know About Back Pain – The Top 7 Essential Oils for Back Pain
The Top 7 Essential Oils for Back Pain
Back pain is one of the most common types of pain reported in the United States, affecting approximately 25% of adults and 70-80% of the older population. It is
among the top 5 reasons for visiting a healthcare provider.
Although back pain is more common in older people, it can affect anyone – regardless of age or medical condition. It may be caused by many factors, such as poor sitting posture, slouching, lack of sleep, strain, tension buildup, overexercising, injury, or overstretching. Some chronic medical conditions like osteoarthritis, sciatica, fibromyalgia, or osteoporosis are also known to cause recurring back pain.
Research shows that being overweight or leading a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of developing lower back pain. Low back pain is known to cause more disability around the world than any other condition. For most patients, the pain usually goes away on its own in a few weeks. But while it lasts, it can severely impact work productivity and overall quality of life. While medications may provide temporary relief, alternative remedies like essential oils are believed to be a safer option in the long term.
Why should you use essential oils for back pain relief?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the use of conventional opioid drugs for chronic low back pain is not supported by evidence. Even nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are generally considered a safer option than opioids, may have many side effects. These pain killer drugs may even turn ineffective after repeated use.
According to the American College of Physicians, non-drug therapies like massage and heat are the best treatments for chronic low back pain. Having adequate levels of magnesium and vitamin D in the body also provides relief. Aromatherapy is one such alternative remedy that has been used for centuries to treat various kinds of pain and inflammation.
In recent years, scientists have been actively looking into the therapeutic potential of essential oils and have found promising results. Experts have suggested that using essential oils for back pain may help improve chronic conditions like osteoarthritis.
Top essential oils for back pain and soreness
The active compound of wintergreen is methyl salicylate – a chemical that closely resembles the composition of acetylsalicylic acid, commonly known as aspirin. This compound makes up about 90-98% of wintergreen oil, making it one of the most potent essential oils for back pain and muscle spasms.
When topically applied to the affected area, wintergreen gets quickly absorbed into the skin, giving a calming and anesthetic effect. Research shows that it can help with arthritic pain, aching joints, muscle soreness, chronic low back pain, headaches, and abdominal cramps. Wintergreen is often used as an active ingredient in many over-the-counter ointments.
While wintergreen is a safer option than pain killers, it should be used in extremely low amounts, as higher doses may have aspirin-like side effects. In fact, applying 10 ml of carrier oil with 2.5% wintergreen represents a similar dose as that of 325 mg aspirin tablet. For all purposes, it is recommended to keep the concentration to 0.5-1%. Also, make sure to apply it only to the affected area and not all over to reduce exposure.
Peppermint is undoubtedly one of the most powerful natural analgesics on the planet. On topical application, peppermint gives a cooling sensation that stimulates blood flow to the spine and back muscles. This releases tension and improves back mobility.
According to a 2014 study, a blend of wintergreen and peppermint oils is far more potent than either of the essential oils alone. This combination was found to be equally effective and even superior to conventional pain killer drugs at reducing chronic low back pain. Researchers also pointed out that compared to aspirin and other NSAIDs, essential oils have little to no side effects and can be safely used for long-term pain conditions.
While peppermint excels at relieving high-intensity pain, its effect is often short-lived. If you have been experiencing back pain for a long time, or if the pain is recurring due to some chronic condition, it is recommended to use peppermint in combination with other anti-inflammatory oils. Peppermint blends well with eucalyptus, lavender, frankincense, rosemary, basil, and ginger oils.
Lavender flowers and essential oil have long been used to calm inflammation of both acute and chronic types. Research shows that monoterpenes found in lavender oil have pain-relieving and sedating properties. Its ability to block pain signals was found comparable to tramadol – a strong pain killer that is medically used to treat moderate-severe types of pain.
In a 2016 trial, aromatherapy massage with lavender oil helped reduce pain and soreness in patients with osteoarthritis. Inhalation of lavender has also been reported to help in muscle aches, back pain, fibromyalgia pain, and diabetic neuropathic pain. Due to its sedating effect on the nervous system, lavender acts as a natural muscle relaxant and sleep-inducing agent.
Drinking a soothing tea made from chamomile flowers is an age-old remedy for alleviating various kinds of pain, including rheumatic pain, back pain, neck pain, knee pain, muscle aches, menstrual cramps, headaches, and migraines.
Research shows that rubbing chamomile essential oil works equally well and is actually a more effective way to get quick relief from localized pain. This is because massaging the oil directly on the site of pain reduces swelling of blood vessels
and allows more blood to reach the area. Its relaxing effect on the central nervous system also reduces pain and anxiety.
In a June 2022 trial, participants who applied chamomile oil thrice a day for three weeks reported a significant reduction in chronic lower back pain. In another 2015 study, researchers found that chamomile oil reduced the need for pain killers in patients with osteoarthritis.
Ginger has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that can help with chronic back pain and soreness. It has been traditionally used to reduce inflammation of joints, ease muscle tension, and promote healing in cases of sprains, strains, and sports injuries.
Study shows that aromatic compounds found in ginger can reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines and block prostaglandin pain signals in conditions of arthritic back pain and knee pain. Researchers suggested that topical application of ginger oil was more effective than conventional pain killers in handling long-term pain conditions.
Rosemary is an effective essential oil for back pain caused by strains, vigorous exercising, slouching, injury, or other tension buildup situations. Often used in rejuvenating aromatherapy massages, rosemary stimulates blood circulation, reduces stiffness, promotes bone and joint strength, and revitalizes muscles.
Research shows that triterpenes present in rosemary oil have anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive properties that can help reduce the sensation of pain. It is a clinically proven alternative remedy for chronic pain conditions, including rheumatic pain, sciatic pain, and neuropathic pain.
In a 2017 study, a combination of rosemary and menthol (active agent of peppermint) was found effective in reducing musculoskeletal pain.
One of the oldest medicinal essential oils, frankincense has been used for centuries to treat pain and inflammation. Research shows that frankincense can reduce the inflammation of connective tissues, relax sore muscles, increase blood flow, and lubricate joints, providing long-lasting relief from chronic pain conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
In a 2020 trial, topical massage with frankincense and myrrh oils was found to be an effective treatment for chronic low back pain. Individuals complaining of low back pain for the past three months found relief after massaging the essential oil blend twice a week for three weeks. Myrrh is a close relative of frankincense, and both oils work extremely well when combined. This combination is also recommended as natural pain relief in the ayurvedic medicine system.
How to use essential oils for relieving back pain
Massage is often the most effective and long-lasting way to relieve localized pain. Mix 5-6 drops of essential oil (or blend) in 15 ml of carrier oil. Thoroughly massage your back using big, gentle strokes. If using this remedy for a long time, reduce the concentration to 3-4 drops.
Warm aromatic bath
Mix 1-2 drops of essential oil in a tsp of carrier oil and add this mixture to your bathwater. A warm aromatic bath helps reenergize and recharge a sore back. This can help reduce tension buildup and improve blood circulation.
This method is more useful when you are trying to recover from an injury or strain. While a warm bath may provide temporary relief, massage is recommended for high-intensity pain.
Adding 3-4 drops of a calming essential oil to your home diffuser may promote speedy recovery from back pain and stiffness. Inhaling healing aromas has a direct impact on the central nervous system, which can induce relaxation, reduce pain and distress, and promote restful sleep.
Safety and risks of using essential oils
Essential oils should always be diluted first with a carrier oil before applying topically, as using them directly on the skin may cause burns or rashes. When used in recommended doses and applied with proper dilution, they are generally safe for most people.
Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should take a doctor’s advice before using essential oils. Some essential oils are known to impact hormones, which may not be desirable in some cases.
When using potent essential oils like wintergreen, peppermint, or ginger, try to keep the concentration extremely low. If well-tolerated, you may increase the dose to 2.5% (1% in the case of wintergreen). Also, wintergreen should be avoided if you are taking any blood thinners.
Essential oils are a gentle and non-toxic therapy for chronic back pain and soreness. When applied topically, they can help reduce inflammation and stiffness, boost circulation, relax the spine, and promote muscle strength. However, if the pain continues for weeks, seek help from a healthcare provider.
It should be noted that essential oils may not help treat the underlying cause of back pain, which is often related to poor posture and sedentary habits. If experiencing recurring pain, try certain yoga poses, such as the downward-facing dog or cobra pose, which are proven to help strengthen the back muscles. Other lifestyle remedies like eating an anti-inflammatory diet, exercising your core, investing in a good chair, and taking adequate sleep may also help.
To Your Health!