Essential Oils for Arthritis

Can Essential Oils Help Your Arthritis Pain?

If you automatically associate oil with relief, then essential oils for arthritis are likely to embed that view.

The oils often work because they contain anti-inflammatory and anti-pain properties, which are extracted from plants, fruits, herbs, trees, and flowers. Certain parts (like the leaves, flower, and bark) are steamed or pressed to create the oil.

By some estimates, it can take several pounds of plant material consisting of more than 30 ingredients to produce just one bottle of essential oil.

All that work could go to urgent use: More than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have arthritis, which is often treated with medications and physical therapy. While these therapies are viewed as the gold standard when it comes to reducing the pain and swelling associated with arthritis, they aren’t the only weapons available.

Essential oils contain vitamins, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories that may help ease arthritis pain and swelling.

This article outlines six of the more common types of essential oils for arthritis, how to use them, and which potential side effects should get your attention.

Essential Oils for Arthritis

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Types of Essential Oils for Arthritis

There are dozens of essential oils, all with unique smells, properties, and characteristics. The oils vary in the way they help relieve arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis (a condition characterized by chronic inflammation of joint linings) and osteoarthritis (in which cushioning cartilage wears away).

Some essential oils for arthritis provide numbing effects. Some curb inflammation. Some interrupt pain receptors in the brain. And some work in a combination of ways. Here are six of the more common essential oils used for arthritis—and the science that backs them up.

Eucalyptus Oil

One study focused on people who underwent knee replacement surgery (a common surgery for people with osteoarthritis in the knee joint) .

Researchers found that those who inhaled eucalyptus oil for 30 minutes on three consecutive days post-surgery reported less pain than those in the control group.

The researchers attributed the reduced pain to the eucalyptus oil’s anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to increase serotonin, a brain chemical that seems to blunt pain.

Ginger Oil

People have valued ginger for centuries for its anti-inflammatory effects. Today, they swallow ginger in capsule or tablet form, mix it in tea, and (at their own risk) even chew the extremely bitter root.

Participants in one study who massaged ginger oil into their arthritic knees twice a week stated they had less pain and better movement in their knees than those who did not use the oil.

Curcumin

Patients with osteoarthritic knee pain who used an ointment containing 5% curcumin (which originates from turmeric) twice a day for six weeks reported significantly less pain than those who used a petroleum jelly product.

Curcumin blocks cytokines (proteins secreted by cells) and enzymes that can cause inflammation.

Copaiba Oil Mix

Arthritis in the hands can be particularly painful, if for no other reason than hands don't get a day off; they're in motion every day.

So one team of researchers was especially eager to see what happened when subjects with arthritis in their hands were divided into two groups.

Members of one group received a hand massage with copaiba oil (which is derived from copaiba trees, found in Brazil) combined with a product that contained wintergreen, camphor, and peppermint. Members of the group were massaged with coconut oil.

Both groups were massaged twice a day for five days. At the end of the study, the copaiba group took less time to perform tasks with their hands, had increased finger strength, and reported a 50% reduction in pain.

Orange Oil

Researchers exploring the effects of orange oil got creative when they placed drops of orange oil on the collars of people admitted to the emergency room with broken bones. (Actually, they put the oil on a pad and then put the pad in peoples' collars.)

The research team replaced the pads every hour. Team members found that people exposed to the orange oil reported less pain than those who did not receive the oil.

While this study didn’t look at arthritis, per se, it stands to reason that orange oil—which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties—may help with the pain associated with joint disease.

Lavender Oil Mix

Lavender is another well-known anti-inflammatory herb that is often found today in candles and bath oil to ease anxiety.

Researchers put lavender at the top of an ingredient mix that also included juniper, and cananga oils (cananga trees are native to India). Along with coconut oil, they massaged the mix onto the knees of people with rheumatoid arthritis three times a week.

After six weeks, those who participated reported less pain and fatigue than those who did not get the treatment.

A Complex Mix

Essential oils can be made from virtually any part of a plant, such as the peels of citrus fruits, the seeds of cardamom, the bark of the cinnamon tree, and the needles of fir trees.

Using Essential Oils

Many essential oils used for arthritis and joint diseases are massaged into the skin around the affected joint. Other oils are inhaled (called aromatherapy).

When using essential oils, look for ones that are 100% pure oil without added ingredients (such as alcohol). And choose those packaged in dark bottles since light can degrade the oil.

Massaging With Essential Oils

Follow these steps to mix an essential oil.

  1. First choose a carrier oil such as coconut, avocado, almond, or jojoba oil. A carrier oil is the base oil that will help dilute the essential oil so that it doesn't irritate or burn your skin. You might already have carrier oils like olive oil, grapeseed oil, or sunflower oil around your house.
  2. Mix between 10 and 20 drops of essential oil into about 1 ounce of your carrier oil of choice.
  3. Massage the potion into your skin, where needed. The oil should absorb in about 10 or 15 minutes. You can reapply the mixture about every six hours.

If you have a rash, open wound ,or skin irritation, wait until it heals before applying an essential oil. The oil could make the problem worse.

Aromatherapy With Essential Oils

You can enjoy aromatherapy in different ways:

  • Mix several drops of an essential oil with a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil or milk and add it to your bath.
  • Place a couple of drops of essential oil on a cotton puff and place it in a plastic bag. Remove the the puff and smell it several times during the day.
  • Add between 30 and 45 drops of an essential oil to a spray bottle filled with 3 ounces of water. Spritz your home, office, or even your bedsheets.

Use Essential Oils in Communal Areas With Care

Essential oils sprayed or diffused into the air can affect everyone who breathes that air. Remember that while you might consider the smell of peppermint oil to be invigorating, it can agitate very young children and may present a problem for people who have a fast heartbeat. Some people with asthma report more problems breathing when certain oils are used in a diffuser.

Side Effects

Side effects can vary depending on how and how often you use the oils, which oils you use, and at what strength you use them. Side effects can include:

  • Skin irritation: This can occur when the oil doesn't absorb quickly and is left on the skin for too long (though the time can vary). Certain oils, including bergamot, lemongrass, and oregano are among some of the more irritating ones. Signs that you’re having an allergic reaction to an oil include a red, itchy skin rash or hives (raised, red itchy bumps on the skin).
  • Sun sensitivity: You may feel another type of burn (literally, a sunburn) if you apply an oil before going outside in the sun.

Try not to get discouraged if your first attempt at using essential oils is a letdown. Many people experiment with several types of essential oils until they find the one that works best for them.

Talk to your healthcare provider before using essential oils for arthritis. Let your healthcare provider know about any current medications or supplements you're taking to help avoid interactions with essential oils.

Summary

Essential oils often work because they contain anti-inflammatory and anti-pain properties, which are extracted from plants, fruits, herbs, trees, and flowers. Six of the more common types are eucalyptus, ginger, curcumin, copaiba, orange, and lavender. Using the oils is simple, whether you massage them into the skin or inhale them (known as aromatherapy).

A Word From Verywell

The pain of arthritis can affect every aspect of your life. It can limit your mobility and reduce the quality of your life. Using essential oils to treat arthritis may be a helpful complement to standard medical therapy. Your healthcare provider can advise you on what, how, and when to use essential oils for arthritis or refer you to a holistic health specialist who can guide you.

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13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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