Essential Oils for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts in oil form. They are rich in nutrients and minerals that may help provide symptom relief for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic autoimmune condition causing joint pain and inflammation.

Used in conjunction with traditional medical treatments, scientific research suggests that compounds in certain essential oils can help ease the pain, swelling, and stiffness associated with RA.  

Though essential oils won't stop the progression of a disease like RA, their potential benefits can be experienced in three ways:

  • Inhaled (known as aromatherapy)
  • Topically applied to the skin
  • Ingested through the diet

For people with RA, topical application of essential oils may be particularly effective. That means massaging the oil onto the skin wherever there is joint pain. To do that, experts recommend putting 10 to 15 drops of essential oil in 1 ounce (1 tablespoons) of what’s known as a carrier oil, like coconut, almond, olive, argan, or jojoba oils.

Diluting your essential oil in a carrier oil makes it easier to absorb and helps protect your skin from irritation. Undiluted essential oils are strong and have the potential to provoke skin irritation and sometimes sun sensitivity.

Certain essential oils may trigger skin reactions in some people. Always test the diluted oil mixture on a small patch of skin before applying to larger areas.

Essential Oils to Help Rheumatoid Arthritis

Jessica Olah / Verywell

Lavender

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is one of the most widely used essential oils, touted for its ability to promote relaxation and encourage restful sleep. But it has also demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects that appear to help directly with chronic joint pain, making it a solid candidate for people with RA.

In a 2016 study of RA patients, pain and fatigue levels improved significantly after lavender essential oil (in combination with a few other oils) was massaged into the knee joints. This oil’s calming effects may also be beneficial for RA patients, who sometimes suffer from anxiety and chronic pain.

To try it out. Experts recommend mixing 20 drops of the essential oil per 6 teaspoons of carrier oil.

Ginger

Thanks to a compound called gingerol, ginger essential oil (Zingiber officinale) has strong anti-inflammatory and pain reduction effects. Specifically, ginger appears to reduce RA-related inflammation by regulating inflammatory gene expression, according to recent research.

Studies done on animals and humans have found that topical application of ginger essential oil cut down on chronic joint inflammation and helped relieve pain in people with RA and arthritis. 

For this essential oil, add two to three drops into 1 tablespoon of a carrier oil and rub it onto the affected areas a few times a week.

Turmeric

A relative of ginger, turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been used in healing modalities for thousands of years, heralded for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Modern research suggests that its active ingredient curcumin helps reduce inflammation and stimulate blood flow, and has even been reported to relieve pain as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in people with RA.

While you can apply turmeric essential oil topically to the affected areas, you may also want to try incorporating the spice into your diet or supplement routine. The Arthritis Foundation recommends starting with 500 milligrams (mg) twice a day.

Frankincense

References to frankincense (Boswellia serrata) essential oil date back to biblical times, but it may be a potentially effective anti-inflammatory for arthritis symptoms. Scientists are investigating how frankincense—especially when combined with myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) essential oil—may be particularly useful for easing joint inflammation.

While people with RA can try this essential oil topically to areas of skin around painful joints, the Arthritis Foundation also suggests ingesting frankincense via capsules, limiting doses to 300-400 milligrams (mg) daily. 

Frankincense essential oil may interact with some medications—including ibuprofen—and may cause side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, and heartburn. It’s not recommended for people who are pregnant or nursing.

Eucalyptus

You might recognize eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) essential oil for its ability to help with respiratory symptoms. But it also contains compounds that act as anti-inflammatories to help reduce swelling and pain—ideal for people with RA. A 2013 study found that inhaling eucalyptus oil following knee replacement surgery helped lower pain levels in arthritis patients.

While eucalyptus oil can be diluted and topically applied to the affected areas, you may also want to try adding several drops to a bowl of hot water and inhaling the steam for a calming effect.

Bergamot

Research done on bergamot (Citrus bergamia) essential oil points to its ability to reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol levels, and increase positive mood—all of which may be helpful for people with RA.

Studies suggest that compounds found in bergamot have a positive effect on the pain response in humans and animals, in addition to its anti-inflammatory capabilities when applied to the skin.

Experts recommend mixing two to three drops of bergamot essential oil with 1 ounce of a carrier oil for topical application.

Basil

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) essential oil is most commonly thought of as being used in food, but it actually contains compounds that may help soothe muscle aches, reduce inflammation, and control the nervous system.

More research is needed, though a 2013 study found that a 150-300 milligram (mg) dose of basil essential oil extract daily resulted in reduced joint swelling and edema (fluid buildup associated with inflammation).

It seems this essential oil may work best when ingested. The Arthritis Foundation recommends adding it to the diet to help uplift mood and relieve aches and pains.

Orange

Chances are, you’ve come across sweet orange essential oil (Citrus sinensis) in cleaning supplies or food flavoring. But preliminary studies also highlight its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antidepressant properties after finding patients’ bone pain levels decreased significantly after inhaling the oil.

For arthritic pain, you can massage one to two drops of diluted orange essential oil per two teaspoons of carrier oil into the skin. Or, add it to your bath to create an overall uplifting effect.

Citrus essential oils, like orange and bergamot, can cause sun sensitivity. To avoid a potential reaction, try to stay out of the sun for 72 hours after applying it to your skin.

A Word From Verywell

Keep in mind that essential oils are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so try to choose pure essential oils and avoid artificial scents. You may also want to consider using an essential oil diffuser, which is a device used to disperse essential oils into the surrounding air. 

When used as directed, essential oils typically have few side effects and risks, but they have the potential to be poisonous if swallowed or used incorrectly. It's a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before incorporating essential oils into your routine, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

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