Aromatherapy In Treating Chronic Pain

Integrative Pain management is one of the aspects of health care that is continuously evolving. Not all are fans of conventional drugs to alleviate and manage pain, so alternative ways to treat it are always a steady pursuit.

Aromatherapy is one of the most popular alternative treatments, not only because it relieves pain but also because it soothes the mind and body. This healing process that started way back in 3500 BC is here to stay, and since it is perceived as a safer and more natural way to treat pain, many are willing to try it.

If you want to minimize drug intake for your pain, read more about aromatherapy and a  multidisciplinary approach to treat chronic pain.

What Is Aromatherapy?

The term “aromatherapy” is the brainchild of Lyon chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé, who was keen on conducting different scientific experiments involving essential oils at his time. But note that in the 5th century BC, Hippocrates was already using aromatic vapors to treat his patients.

Aromatherapy falls under phytotherapy or herbalism, and it utilizes the volatile active components of plants. The main ingredient in aromatherapy is essential oils, which are absorbed by your body through inhalation, topical absorption, and, in some cases, ingestion. When applied topically, an essential oil is usually used with a carrier oil like almond oil.

Inhaling the vapors or scent promotes a healing environment, reduces your anxiety, and helps manage pain.

How Does Aromatherapy Work To Alleviate Pain?

The main target of aromatherapy is your limbic system, which controls your emotions, memories, smells, and behaviors.

It is essential to understand that aromatherapy is not the cure for your chronic pain. But it can provide a reprieve from the pain that you are experiencing. Inhalation is the fastest and safest way for the oils to get into your body with the scent getting into your olfactory nerves and brain.

The brain then communicates with your nervous system, which regulates your mood and sensitivity to sensations like pain. . Aromatherapy triggers a chemical reaction in your brain receptors in response to the scented oil. One of these chemical reactions can be the production and release of the feel-good hormone dopamine.

What Are The Scents Recommended For Pain Management?

Using aromatherapy to manage chronic pain requires knowing what scents or essences you should use. Each of these recommended plants targets a specific area in your body, so it pays to use particular scents depending on where you feel pain.

These essential oils are highly concentrated oils produced from the extracts of the leaves, stems, roots, and flowers of aromatic herbs. You only need to use a drop of these essential oils, and you can already maximize their health and healing advantages.

  • Lavender

Lavender essentials are one of the most used essentials in aromatherapy. A study indicated that this essence is especially effective in children in reducing the pain after getting a tonsillectomy. This is because lavender essential oil has anti-inflammatory and pain relief properties.

Additionally, lavender can be a helpful pain reliever for people with migraines and chronic neck pain. Not only does it lessen the severity of the pain, but it also calms the mind and body to alter perception of pain so you can focus on other things aside from the discomfort.

  • Bergamot

A study conducted in 2015 concluded that bergamot essential oil could reduce neuropathic pain due to chronic nerve disease. An alternative way of easing the pain is good news because opioid pain medicines cannot usually relieve neuropathic pain.

  • Rose oil

Most women experience cramps during the menstruation period on a monthly basis. Rose oil can lessen these menstruation cramps, especially when done simultaneously with traditional treatment like abdominal massage therapy and the application of a hot compress.

Rose oil is particularly advised for those who have recently had surgery as it helps relieve pain while also lowering blood pressure, breathing rate, and heart rate.

  • Peppermint

Peppermint oil is also known by the name menthol. It provides a tingling but cooling sensation when you use it topically. It is also the main ingredient of relieving ointments like Icy Hot and Bengay.

When administered topically, peppermint helps relieve tension headaches, and when inhaled, it can reduce the severity of muscle spasms, chronic headaches, muscle tension, and body pains.

  • Eucalyptus

This is a well-known essence that has analgesic effects and helps with most respiratory problems. When used regularly, eucalyptus can relieve sore muscles and strains. When inhaled, it can ease nerve pain and sprains.

  • Frankincense

Known as the master healer among essential oils, frankincense has many healing properties when inhaled. It can reduce swelling, boost the immune system, and, more importantly, ease pain and muscular tension.

Because of its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and nervine qualities, frankincense can also help reduce arthritic discomfort and nerve pain.

  • Juniper Berry

 Juniper Berry is another good alternative that helps reduce the severity of your joint pains, muscle aches, and muscle spasms because of its antispasmodic, anti-rheumatic, and analgesic properties.

Continued exposure to Juniper Berry can also help strengthen your nerves, allowing your body to respond more effectively to neuropathic pain.

  • Sandalwood

Sandalwood has anti-inflammatory properties similar to over-the-counter medications. It can reduce inflammation and pain, and when inhaled,  it can help relieve pain caused by a sore throat.

Sandalwood is also known to help boost your mood and promote mental calm, allowing you to react to and perceive pain more effectively..

  • Lemongrass

Lemon grass can also reduce arthritic pain when inhaled or applied topically on a regular basis. Australian lemongrass can also relieve headaches, primarily due to eugenol, a compound that has the same effect as over-the-counter aspirin.

  • Roman Chamomile

Roman Chamomile is another essential oil that can help with menstrual cramps, inflammatory pain, and rheumatic pain.

As a bonus, Roman chamomile also promotes a restful sleep that is difficult to achieve when you are in pain.

  • Coriander

Also called cilantro, this oil can provide you pain relief by improving your body’s circulation. Its anti-inflammatory properties also promote healing. 

  • Cypress

Cypress helps heal wounds, promotes blood circulation, and relieves stress. You can try this option when you are experiencing cramps and muscle pains.

How To Do Aromatherapy At Home?

You can always go to a salon or spa for a relaxing aromatherapy session. But if you are in pain, you may want to stay in a comforting, familiar location.

One of the advantages of aromatherapy is you can do it anytime in the comfort of your home. You only need your essential oil and a means to inhale and absorb the aroma.

Diffusers are easy to operate and widely available today. They are also the most common and straightforward method of eliciting the aroma and advantages of the different oil essences of your choice.

Electrical diffusers can operate for hours allowing you to reap the full benefits of the essential oil. Additionally, diffusers allow you to use and inhale a mixture of several essential oils.

When using a diffuser, you only need to put several drops of your essential oil in the diffuser and then leave it running in the room. You can sit next to the diffuser, but it’s not necessary. You can go about your other activities while inhaling the air infused with essential oils.

If you don’t have a diffuser, put a few drops on a cloth or handkerchief and inhale the scent from the fabric.

Another method to benefit from the essential oil is to open the bottle of oil and slowly wave it about while sniffing it.

What Are The Risks Of Using Aromatherapy In Treating Chronic Pain?

The use of essential oils during aromatherapy triggers a reaction in your body. Although aromatherapy is seen as a more natural approach, it is not recommended for everyone.

The chemical compounds in the oils can also lead to adverse effects, especially when used in conjunction with prescription medicine. Continuous exposure to these essential oils can reduce the efficacy of the prescribed drug or aggravate your other health conditions.

For example, consider a person with migraine and high blood pressure who chooses rosemary as the essential oil for aromatherapy. This should be safe for any other person, but because rosemary is a stimulant, it might cause a violent reaction in those with high blood pressure.

Additionally, certain oils can produce toxins. Sure, if the oil is diluted in water, the effect should only be minimal, but if regularly exposed to these oils, toxins can accumulate and cause kidney and liver damage.

Note that if you have any of the following conditions, it is best to be extra careful with aromatherapy. If you want to use it to manage your pain, you must first obtain consent from your healthcare provider.

  • Asthma
  • Hay fever or any allergy
  • Epilepsy
  • Hypertension
  • Skin conditions like psoriasis

Overall, aromatherapy has only mild side effects that are short lived. Nausea and headache are common but they should subside within a few minutes. Aromatherapy’s therapeutic properties seem to far outweigh any negative reactions to the oils.


With aromatherapy, you can indeed smell relief. Many people have experienced the effectiveness of aromatherapy in relieving pain, anxiety, and depression. It can trigger emotional and physiological changes in your body to help you manage pain better.

It will not cure the pain or make it go away permanently, but it can reduce the severity of the symptoms, which is a welcome relief for anybody in distress. It is one of the best complementary therapies to your current pain management plan.