Essential Oils for Knee and Joint Pain

Knee and joint pain can disrupt your daily life. But there are ways to feel better. Plant-based essential oils might help, along with over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications.

Essential oils have been around for thousands of years. Using them for therapeutic or medicinal reasons is called aromatherapy. Here’s what you need to know.

What Are Essential Oils?

They’re the scented parts of a plant, usually the bark, leaves, or peel. You smell them when the plant is crushed. Special steaming processes also bring out the fragrance.

Essential oils have a strong scent. But that’s not what helps you feel better. The plant’s chemicals affect your brain and body. They get into your bloodstream when you put the oil on your skin or breathe it in.

Types of Essential Oils

There are lots of them. But there’s some scientific evidence that certain oils might help ease knee and joint pain. They include:

  • Bergamot
  • Black cumin (Nigella sativa)
  • Cinnamon
  • Eucalyptus
  • Frankincense and myrrh
  • Geranium
  • Ginger
  • Lavender
  • Lemongrass
  • Orange
  • Rosemary
  • Peppermint

Do They Really Work?

Aromatherapy may also lower your stress levels and how you sense pain. More research is needed to know how helpful essential oils really are. Here’s what some small studies found:

Black cumin. Older people rubbed black cumin oil into their achy knees 3 times a day for 3 weeks. They felt better than the group that only took acetaminophen.

Eucalyptus. People who breathed in eucalyptus oil had less pain and lower blood pressure after total knee replacement.

Frankincense and myrrh. When used together, these oils eased joint inflammation in rats with arthritis. Experts are looking into how this might help with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

Ginger. A group of people with ongoing knee problems reported less pain and stiffness a month after a massage with ginger oil. The group that only got a massage did not. They also showed better physical function overall.

Lavender. A massage with lavender oil helped ease musculoskeletal pain and knee pain from osteoarthritis.

Lemongrass. A small group of people with rheumatoid arthritis felt a little less pain after using lemongrass oil for 30 days. Experts think the plant chemical citral may be anti-inflammatory.

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How to Use Essential Oils

Don’t put essential oil directly on your body. It may sting or irritate your skin. Here are some tips:

  • Massage. Put 10-15 drops of an essential oil in 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of a carrier oil. Those are oils like coconut, almond, olive, avocado, or jojoba. That’ll help protect your skin and make it easier to absorb. Rub into your skin, wherever you feel joint pain. You can also massage some onto your feet, arms, wrists, neck, or behind your ears.
  • Inhaling. You can put a few drops on a cloth or sniff the air as you slowly wave an open bottle of essential oil in front of you. You can also buy a waterless or water-based diffuser. That’s a device that sprays essential oil mist into the air. Follow the instructions on how much to use.

Always test a small part of your skin first. Be on the lookout for an allergic reaction. Symptoms may include:

What Not to Do

Aromatherapy is generally considered safe. If you’re pregnant, don’t use essential oils unless your doctor says it’s OK. Don’t use them on children or babies.

Don’t eat or drink them. Experts aren’t sure it’s safe. And be careful if you go outside. Some essential oils, like bergamot, can make your skin sensitive to sunlight.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on May 12, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “How Aromatherapy Can Help Ease Your Pain.”

Journal of Food Science and Technology: “Health-promoting value and food applications of black cumin essential oil: an overview.”

Pain Research and Treatment: “The Effectiveness of Aromatherapy in Reducing Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.”

National Cancer Institute: “Aromatherapy With Essential Oils -- Patient Version.”

Phytotherapy Research: “Topical dermal application of essential oils attenuates the severity of adjuvant arthritis in Lewis rats.”

Complimentary Therapies in Clinical Practice: “Investigation of the effect of black cumin oil on pain in osteoarthritis geriatric individuals,” “Effect of aromatherapy massage with lavender essential oil on pain in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee: A randomized controlled clinical trial.” 

Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “Effect of Eucalyptus Oil Inhalation on Pain and Inflammatory Responses after Total Knee Replacement: A randomized Clinical Trial,” “The Influence of Carrier Oils on the Antimicrobial Activity and Cytotoxicity of Essential Oils.” 

Scientific Reports: “Frankincense and myrrh suppress inflammation via regulation of the metabolic profiling and the MAPK signaling pathway.”

Molecules: “Seeing the Unseen of the Combination of Two Natural Resins, Frankincense and Myrrh: Changes in Chemical Constituents and Pharmacological Activities.”

International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork: “Efficacy, Safety and Tolerability of Aroma Massage with Lavender Essential Oil: An Overview.

Japan Journal of Nursing Science: “Effects of aromatherapy massage on pain, functional state, and quality of life in an elderly individual with knee osteoarthritis.”

International Journal of Molecular Sciences: “Analgesic-Like Activity of essential Oil Constituents: An Update.”

Electronic Physician: “Effect of Topical Application of Nigella Sativa Oil and Oral Acetaminophen on Pain in elderly with Knee Osteoarthritis: A Crossover Clinical Trial.”

Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research: “Effect of Lemongrass Oil on Rheumatoid Arthritis.”

Arthritis Foundation: “Aromatherapy for Arthritis Relief.”

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center: “How and why to use essential oils.”

Mayo Clinic: “Why aromatherapy is showing up in hospital surgical units.”

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