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Aromatherapy & Pain

Learn to use essential oils and aromatherapy to reduce the effects of acute, chronic and persistent pain.

Pain – a dreaded unpleasant sensation that it is safe to say we have all encountered at some point in time. Whether pain is caused by a simple cut to the finger or an accidental bang to the head, the sensation is something commonly felt and is the type of feeling that most wish to avoid. Pain from a cut finger or bang to the head can be resolved fairly promptly, whereas in other instances pain can be persistent and can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life.

Pain is an unfortunate accompanying factor to a wide range of medical illnesses, for example multiple sclerosis, arthritis, migraine and cancer. In certain cases, medical illnesses can be treated, or professionals inform us that once the illness has run its course the pain will stop. In other circumstances pain can be endured for a number of months and despite the use of various treatment methods, the pain persists. When pain can be alleviated fairly quickly with treatment it is referred to as “acute” pain. When pain becomes persistent and resistive to treatment, it is usually referred to as “chronic pain”, and this is where adequate treatment begins to get complicated.

Chronic Pain

Despite chronic pain being “the most common reason for physical consultation in the United States” (Wikipedia.com), finding an effective cure to alleviate such symptoms is far from easy. When a person has been in pain for a prolonged period of time, the experience of pain becomes mind dominating, and can be associated with a wide variety of behavioral symptoms, for example loss of appetite, sleep deprivation, anxiety, or fatigue. It is behavioral symptoms such as these that can have devastating psychological effects upon the individual’s health and well-being.

What begins as a simple pain can grow into a sense of frustration, a sense of hopelessness, anger and often even fear. Individuals can begin to place limitations on the things they are now capable of doing, spend less time playing with children, or take less care with hygiene because they are fearful of causing themselves even more pain. These subtle changes in thinking can eventually disrupt a person”s lifestyle to the extent that a new cycle is formed, whereby the person now holds the belief that he or she cannot participate in daily living activities as opposed to they might.

As Dr R.T.Cochran (2010) states, “It is lack of hope, perhaps more than anything else, that defines chronic pain”. He provides an excellent example of how this change in thought may occur in his article “Chronic Pain” (2010). He attempts to examine pain in relation to the loss of a loved one, a situation where you would expect an individual to experience feelings of great sadness and anxiety; feelings that would naturally disrupt normal daily living behaviors.

In most instances such feelings would eventually pass over time, the mind and body will heal and the mourner will begin once again to smile and continue with life as they had before. In some cases however, the grief will simply not disperse, and the individual will become more and more withdrawn from daily living as they become depressed. It is no longer just grief causing the pain, but is now also the depression.

Coping with Chronic Pain

“When chronic pain is not all in your head, your psychological state plays a huge role in the effect it has on your life” Jacques, E (2010). Learning how to cope with the pain at a level where you can remain focused on your aims for living is the first step to overcoming and preventing pain from taking over your life.

Initially retrain your brain to think positively; there are numerous individuals who continue to live healthily despite suffering from persistent pain. Get to know others who are experiencing similar symptoms and ask if they have any coping strategies that may be of use to you. Knowing others who are suffering like you are can also help you feel less alone during those most difficult moments. Let people help you! Allow all those good Samaritans to give you a hand now and again and use this time to relax instead of struggling to complete tasks.

Make a new appointment with your doctor and discuss any alternative medicines that may be available to help alleviate your symptoms. It can be frustrating to keep trying out new pills that never seem to work, but it may be worthwhile if you find the one that does the job well. If the pain you are experiencing is resulting in you withdrawing from activities and decreasing your mobility, then speak to your doctor about referring you to a professional physical therapist. Physical therapists can design a program specifically for you, one that will enable you to maintain strong muscles (weak muscles are more susceptible to pain) and prevent you from becoming immobile.

I would also recommend that you explore other more alternative treatments that may be able to help either the pain or the accompanying psychological symptoms such as energy medicine, yoga or acupuncture; always discuss these options thoroughly with your physician prior to undertaking.


A method that many individuals opt for to relieve pain or to simply de-stress and relax is to have a massage. A massage can not only relieve stress and help us to relax, but can also reduce muscle and joint stiffness, and relieve tension and pain. The therapy increases blood circulation and allows the body to rid itself of waste products produced by cells and organs, and is a treatment that is becoming much more popular across the globe with professionals utilizing its benefits in treating the symptoms of a large number of medical conditions. Stress, I believe, is the number one symptom that a good massage can help relieve, yet professionals are becoming increasingly aware that massage can have a positive impact upon an individual suffering back pain, arthritis or a repetitive strain injury (C. Wong, 2007).

Aromatherapy Massage

Aromatherapy massage is like a massage, but with increased benefits. In aromatherapy massage, a few drops of essential oil are blended with the massage oil so that the individual will not only be able to inhale the aroma whilst receiving treatment, but the oils can also be absorbed via the skin. Where a massage treatment can concentrate upon the physical characteristics of the body, the healing properties of essential oils can work upon the well being of the mind.

Stress relief is again the most popular reason that many individuals will opt for an aromatherapy massage, as stated by V.A.Worwood (1996, pxiii) however “ this is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, because in fact essential oils provide a complete material medica for mind, mood and emotion”. Recent studies have demonstrated that aromatherapy massage have improved symptoms of lymphoedema (Barclay J et al, 2006), and others have highlighted how the use of aromatherapy massage with cancer patients in hospice settings is steadily increasing (Soden K et al, 2004).

If opting to undergo an aromatherapy massage, I would personally recommend consulting with a fully trained and experienced aromatherapist who has additional qualifications in massage techniques beforehand. A professional will be able to guide you in choosing which essential oils will serve best in treating the symptoms you are experiencing.

Lavender essential oil, for example is recommended to treat symptoms of stress, whereas Rosemary essential oil would be used to lift spirits and energize individuals. Chamomile roman essential oil can be used to treat inflammation, and Peppermint essential oil can provide an analgesic effect upon sufferers of migraines. Only a skilled therapist however would be able to recommend the essential oils that would be right for you – there are so many and to play guessing games with them may serve to increase your symptoms as opposed to alleviate them.

Aromatherapy Massage Recipes for Pain

Blend the following oils together:

Massage the oil into the affected area approximately four times daily. Wear cotton gloves when applying the oil until the mixture soaks into the skin to prevent your hands from becoming greasy.

For general all over aches and pains blend:

Add to 30mls of Evening Primrose oil and massage into the body.

Not everyone is comfortable having a massage. Whether because of issues of privacy or a fear of causing more pain to the affected area, individuals often steer away from attempting this method of treatment. If you fall into this category then why not try adding essential oils to a nice soothing hot bath. I would recommend adding lavender or bergamot essential oils, either 10 drops of one of the other, or 5 drops of each. Either way, do not add more than 10 drops of essential oils in total to a bath.

The best way to add the essential oils is when the water is running, as this allows the oils to mix well with the bath water. If you are adding the oils once the bath has been run, then add the10 drops of essential oils to a teaspoon of vegetable oil (a carrier oil great for skincare), and then add this blend to the bath water. Use caution with the latter method though: adding carrier oils to the mix can result in your bath becoming slippery.

*This is educational information and any opinions expressed here-in do not replace professional medical advice. If you are ill, see a suitably qualified medical practitioner.*

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