Neuropathy is a condition that happens when your nerves don’t work the way they should because your nerve cells have been damaged or destroyed. It can affect the way you feel things, and can cause numbness, tingling, and pain. The condition can also cause weakness and change the way you move.
Neuropathy often shows up in your hands and feet. It’s especially common among people with diabetes, 60% to 70% of whom develop neuropathy at some point. Neuropathy can also happen due to conditions that affect your blood vessels, cancer treatments (including chemotherapy), and vitamin deficiencies.
If you have neuropathy, follow your doctor’s treatment plan. You may have heard that some people use essential oils as complementary treatments for their neuropathy. (Complementary treatments are used with, but don’t replace, mainstream medical treatment.) There’s little research to back it up, but a few studies suggest that some essential oils may help ease some of the symptoms of neuropathy. Here’s what you need to know.
What the Research Shows
Keep in mind that no guidelines recommend essential oils as a neuropathy treatment, and the handful of studies on the topic aren’t big enough to be conclusive.
One 2017 study from Turkish researchers included 46 people with diabetes-related neuropathy. For the study, about half of the group got their hands and feet massaged using essential oils for 30 minutes, 3 times a week, for 4 weeks. Those people reported a 66% drop in neuropathy-related pain, compared to a 9% drop in pain for those who got medical care but no massage. The researchers used a 5% dilution of lavender, geranium, rosemary, blue chamomile, and lemon eucalyptus essential oils mixed with coconut oil. Massage boosts blood flow and can prompt the release of certain pain-relieving chemicals, so it’s possible some of the benefits came from the massage rather than the oils.
Another study included 60 people with neuropathy in their feet. They sprayed a mix of geranium, lavender, bergamot, tea tree, and eucalyptus essential oils onto their skin. Almost all – 935 reported less pain 30 minutes later. (How long that pain relief lasted isn’t clear.) And a 2019 study found that aromatherapy massage helped ease chemotherapy-related neuropathy pain and fatigue in 46 people.
Which Oils Work Best for Pain?
There’s no single recipe for the best oils to use. The research mentioned above included lavender, bergamot, tea tree, geranium, rosemary, blue chamomile, and lemon eucalyptus oils. Other studies show that bergamot, cinnamon, geranium, ginger, lavender, and lemongrass essential oils may help ease pain. But not all of these oils have been tested on neuropathy.
Is It Safe to Use Essential Oils if You Have Neuropathy?
It’s usually safe to use essential oils if you take these precautions:
Talk to your doctor. This is best to do before you start any new treatment, including natural methods. You want your doctor to have a complete record of everything you use or try to help manage your condition.
Don’t put essential oils directly on your skin. Because they’re concentrated and strong, they might irritate your skin. Blend (or dilute) a little bit of any essential oil with a neutral carrier oil, such as coconut or jojoba oil. Essential oils should make up no more than 3% to 5% of the mixture. This is about 3 drops of essential oil to 1 teaspoon of carrier oil.
Choose wisely. Many products are labeled as “essential oils,” but they’re not all pure or good quality. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy recommends buying oil from a reputable supplier. When in doubt, ask a medical professional before trying a new product. And you’ll want to test a little bit of it on one area to make sure you don’t have a bad reaction to it.
Skin only. Don’t use essential oils in drinks or foods without a medical professional’s supervision.