Essential Oils for RA

Medically Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on May 01, 2023
2 min read

The joint pain, swelling, and stiffness that come with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be so tough that you might be willing to do anything to stop it. Thankfully, there’s a long list of conventional and non-conventional treatments that can ease that pain.

Plant-based “essential oils” can play a part in your treatment. They’ve been used for centuries to lessen joint pain. But the safety and effectiveness of EOs, as they’re sometimes known, have been a topic of debate for years.

Still, some people with RA swear by EOs as part of their treatment regimen, and many doctors give the go-ahead to try them. It’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor or rheumatologist to talk it over.

They’re derived from herbs, flowers, fruits, and other plants. These oils generally have a pleasing fragrance and are used in a complementary treatment known as aromatherapy (also called essential oil therapy). You usually inhale them or rub them on your skin. Sometimes, you add them to foods like peppermint tea.

EOs can come from many different plants, including:

Aromatherapy is a complementary treatment, meaning it’s meant to be used along with, not instead of, your prescribed treatment. Tell your doctor if you’re using EOs or if you’d like to use them. There are risks: Some oils, in different forms and doses, can cause things like:

It may also interfere with medicine you’re taking.

Don’t stop your conventional therapy in favor of essential oils. That could lead to permanent joint damage.

Still, EOs seem to work for many people. Holy basil (tulsi) is said to work as an anti-arthritic. Studies have been done on many oils -- including, notably, turmeric, lavender, and ginger -- to gauge how well they ease inflammation and the pain of arthritis. But many believe more research is needed.

How well many of these treatments work is still up for debate. The fact that so many people are using them or looking for another treatment for their RA is pushing researchers to keep studying.

So far, the research is promising. It’s also continuing. But it’s not widely accepted science yet. Before you start using essential oils, talk with your doctor.