Aromatherapy A-Z: Muscular aches & pains

Choosing which essential oils to use for muscular aches and pains will, as always, be dictated by the nature of the pain. Muscle pain can be caused by poor posture, anxiety (causing tension), muscular exertion, infection, temperature or injury. It can also be pain caused by a referred injury or joint inflammation causing deferred discomfort. So, presented with this form of pain, it is important to ascertain the root cause of the problem.

First of all, as an aromatherapist, when presented with a client with muscle pain, observation should be your first port of call. Looking at how your client is sitting, where they are holding their tension, how they are holding the area, and how much awareness they have about the root cause of their symptoms can also be helpful. It is also important to cover how long the pain has been present as your understanding of whether the problem is a long or short-term issue will have a bearing on your choice of essential oils, the type of massage required and the lifestyle recommendations. Remember to score the pain from one to ten from your clients’ perspective and ask if the discomfort is severe enough to disturb their sleep pattern or require regular use of painkillers. Dehydration will also worsen most forms of pain, and if your client also takes little exercise, muscular congestion and tension will also have an impact.

Essential oils for muscular aches and pains

There are numerous essential oils that can be useful for soothing sore muscles. Oils that are analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, or rubefacient (increases blood flow) are of most use. Popular choices are Chamomile, Lavender, Sweet Marjoram and Rosemary which will help to ease pain, particularly when it is caused by over-exertion. Clary Sage and Jasmine can have a relaxant effect on the muscles and others such as Black Pepper, Juniperberry and Rosemary can improve muscle tone and help warm and prepare the muscles for action (helping to avoid soreness or injury). Other useful essential oils include Black Spruce, Copaiba, Eucalyptus, Fir Needle, Ginger, Helichrysum, Peppermint, Pimento, Pine, Plai, Spanish Lavender Sage, Sweet Birch (use with care) and Turmeric.

Base oils for muscle pain

The essential oil from Arnica is highly toxic, but its therapeutic properties can be safely enjoyed by infusing the petals into a base oil such as Sunflower. Infused Arnica oil is highly recommended as a massage oil for muscular aches and pains – particularly after exercise or strenuous activity (safety note: do not use on broken skin).

Infused Comfrey oil and St John’s Wort are also recommended as well as Castor Bean and Mustard Seed Oil.

Visit our web pages for more detail on these carrier oils which are ideal for use in your muscle soothing massage blends.

How to use aromatherapy oils for muscle pain

The best ways to use essential oils for muscle pain are in baths, compresses and massage. 

Massage helps release pain and tension and increases blood flow to the affected areas. You can try self-massage at home, or book a treatment with a professional aromatherapist who can tailor the treatment accordingly.

Warm baths are great for relaxing and loosening stiff muscles – try adding some mineral rich Epsom Salt or Dead Sea Salt can also help to soothe the muscles.

Compresses are also helpful. As a general rule, use a warm compress for pain relief and a cold compress to reduce swelling and inflammation.

Here are some essential oil blends which can be used in a variety of different ways for natural pain relief.

Muscle pain due to exercise/exertion:

30ml base oil, 2 drops Plai, 2 Rosemary, 2 Peppermint, 4 Marjoram and 4 Lavender. Massage into the affected area working in a direction towards the heart.

Or, take soothing soak with 1 cup of Dead Sea Salt, 4 drops Lavender, 4 Marjoram, 2 Roman Chamomile and 1 Black Pepper.

Muscle pain due to poor posture:

30ml base oil, 2 drops Black Pepper, 4 drops Marjoram, 4 Lavender and 4 Cypress. Massage into affected areas as described above.

Muscle pain due to anxiety:

30ml base oil, 2 drops Neroli, 6 Orange, 2 Rose and 5 Lavender. Use for a full body massage to help dispel anxiety, stress and tension. 

Muscle pain referred from joint inflammation:

Make a cold compress with 2 drops of Peppermint and 2 German Chamomile in 1 litre of cold water. Soak a clean cloth in the water and wring out excess liquid. Apply to the affected area over a 20-minute period, re-soaking and replacing the compress as soon as it warms to skin temperature. You can use iced water if the inflammation is severe. Next, apply Aloe Vera Gel made with 100ml Aloe Vera & Seaweed Gel, 20 drops Lavender, 8 drops Frankincense, 4 drops German Chamomile and 4 drops Lemon Eucalyptus. Massage into the joints and muscles 3-4 times daily.

Muscle pain during infection/temperature:

If muscle pain is experienced during an infection accompanied by a temperature, you cannot use massage until the temperature has normalised. Try using the cold compress technique above but remember not to bring the temperature down too quickly, as this can cause shock to the system, especially in children and the infirm.

Period Pain:

Muscle pain can also arise for some who experience severe period pains causing muscle spasm in the lower abdomen or lower back. This can be extremely debilitating and can even cause nausea. I recommend taking raspberry leaf herbal capsules along with the following aromatherapy blends:-

Aromatic bath: one cup of Dead Sea Salt with 5 drops Lavender, 5 Marjoram and 4 Clary Sage.

Warm compress: 1 litre warm water with 5 drops of Lavender, 5 Clary Sage and 5 Marjoram. Apply to lower back and abdomen. Ideally simultaneously.

Massage: Blend 10ml of St John’s Wort, 20ml Evening Primrose Oil, 1 drop Peppermint, 3 Frankincense, 3 Lavender, 3 Marjoram and 5 Geranium. Massage in clockwise rotations gently over the abdomen and smooth in long soothing strokes down the back.

For a ready-made solution to general aches and pains you can also use our Muscles Massage Oil or Massage Wax blended with pure essential oils of Clary Sage, Sweet Marjoram, Lavender and Rosemary.

Joannah Metcalfe
Consultant Aromatherapist

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