What are essential oils?
Essential oils are the foundation of aromatherapy, which uses oils and other aromas to improve mood, mindset, and overall well-being. An essential oil is a potent liquid component extracted from a plant by means of distillation or cold pressing, which physically isolates the oils from the solid plant material. These oils are produced in the individual cells of the plant and are what give each species of plant its unique aroma. Essential oils are relatively easy to incorporate into everyday life and are largely effective in the treatment of pain, as well as in boosting mood and providing cognitive benefits.
How can they help with pain?
Essential oils have been found to reduce pain in a number of situations and conditions. Many essential oils are analgesic—meaning they naturally relieve pain—and anti-inflammatory—meaning they inhibit the autoimmune response in the body that causes pain and swelling, joint pain, stomach aches, and muscle pain. Aromatherapy is becoming increasingly common in reducing menstrual pain. When used topically, one study reported essential oils cut the amount of time in pain by almost half.. A similar finding came out of a 2014 study suggesting the use of essential oil-infused topical cream for the treatment of neck pain.
Five Essential Oils for Pain Treatment
Lavender oil comes from the lavender plant, which is a small purple flower. Lavender controls inflammation and is a natural analgesic and antinociceptive, both of which inhibit pain. Lavender has other beneficial properties, besides it healing abilities. It has been found to reduce anxiety and calm the body and mind. These two properties are related to the flower’s anti-inflammatory qualities. Lavender is particularly effective in reducing muscular and joint pain, however it also helps to treat acne and mild stomach discomfort.
Peppermint—more commonly known as a flavoring for candy and gum—is used to treat a number of health conditions and provide cognitive benefits. Peppermint oil has been proven effective in the treatment of pain in a number of conditions, most notably irritable bowel syndrome. The oil has also been found to naturally increase exercise performance, as it increases oxygen and decreases lactate levels in the blood. Peppermint has antimicrobial and antiviral properties, which improves the immune system, and is commonly consumed as a tea.
Chamomile is another anti-inflammatory oil that is used to treat menstrual, gastrointestinal, and joint pain, among other conditions. Historically, chamomile has been used to treat skin ailments, such as chicken pox and poison ivy; however, it is now widely used to treat infection, toothache, eczema, and even the common cold, among other conditions. Aside from its pain-relieving abilities, chamomile is a natural sleep aid and can help reduce the symptom severity of anxiety. Chamomile is often ingested as a tea worldwide.
Ginger is a known anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. It is similar in action to ibuprofen and aspirin, as it is a known COX-2 inhibitor, however it does not come with the harsh side effects associated with these drugs. Ginger can easily be incorporated into daily meals, as it is often an ingredient in herbal teas and is commonly sold in grocery stores in the root form. The essential oil can be massaged onto the skin in the affected area or inhaled in order to reap its benefits.
Rosemary is a widely used plant most commonly included in recipes in the kitchen. While this plant has been used throughout history as an herbal healer, it has been proven to possess anti-inflammatory and pain inhibiting properties. Rosemary also positively affects the brain—boosting mood and providing cognitive benefits—and has a significant effect on alertness and memory enhancement. 
This article was contributed by Mary Ney.
Mary is a first year student at American University in Washington, DC where she is studying public health. She is originally from Ocean City, New Jersey. Mary has been practicing yoga for over four years and has a passion for wellness, running, and healthy foods.
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