It’s hard to believe that smelling something wonderful can lessen pain, but a growing body of research is showing that it can. Here are some essential facts about the use of aromatherapy for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and its symptoms.
Since the beginning of human history, people have used fragrant oils extracted from plants to improve their health. But it’s only in recent years that studies have begun to show that aromatherapy use has definite benefits, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Aromatherapy for arthritis
For people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), aromatherapy’s potential to help with pain, as well as sleep, depression, and more, means you may want to take a fresh look at this ancient complementary approach.
Aromatherapy can help people with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, both in terms of specific pain symptoms and general lifestyle issues.
Aromatherapy can be a useful tool to generate a feeling of well-being in a person. It’s like personal care, a way to improve calm, reduce irritability, improve sleep, and encourage a calm mind.
Small studies show the value of essential oils for pain
When 36 adults with RA or other inflammatory conditions massaged their hands twice a day for five days in a row, using a mixture of essential oils and basic coconut oil, the aromatherapy group reported less pain and more strength in their fingers, according to the Results published in November 2018 in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.
And a review of 42 small studies on the use of aromatherapy for all types of pain, published in November 2016 in the journal Pain Research and Treatment, concluded that “aromatherapy can successfully treat pain when combined with conventional treatments”.
Other conditions linked to AR can also be helped
Besides pain, many people with RA also have problems with sleep and mood. Aromatherapy seems to help here too. A study on sleep involved 50 Taiwanese nurses who worked rotating night shifts. Half of them received weekly aromatherapy massages, while the other half received a regular massage.
After one month, nurses receiving aromatherapy reported better sleep quality, fewer sleep disturbances and less daytime dysfunction, according to results published in July 2017 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Iranian researchers examined four studies on the psychological effects of aromatherapy in older women and concluded that symptoms such as anxiety and depression improved when aromatherapy was used in conjunction with conventional treatments. This study was published in February 2018 in the journal Medicine.
How to use aromatherapy for rheumatoid arthritis and its symptoms
One way aromatherapy works its magic is that our sense of smell is directly related to the limbic system in our brain, which is responsible for emotions and our response to stress.
That’s why when you smell heavy smoke, your body immediately throws itself into a fight or flight response, Chesla says, or why when you smell a rose bush your whole body relaxes.
A study of women linked aromatherapy directly to our sympathetic nervous system, which is controlled by the limbic system. This research, published in the Japanese Journal of Pharmacology, found that levels of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, decreased when women smelled rose oil, but rose when they smelled more pepper oil.
Some experts are also beginning to link aromatherapy to the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which appears to play a role in pain relief.
How to use essential oils for pain
Essential oils must be mixed with carrier oils before being applied to the skin. Some carrier oils include:
- coconut oil
- olive oil
- amla oil
- jojoba oil
- avocado oil
- Grape seed oil
- almonds oil
- Argan oil
Essential oils are generally inhaled or massaged into the skin.
A person can:
- Place a few drops in hot water and inhale the steam.
- Use a diffuser that dilutes essential oils in hot water and releases a scented mist.
- Mix the oils into bath salts or add them directly to a warm bath.
- Dilute them in carrier oils and massage the mixture into sore, stiff, or painful joints.
- Add a few drops to bandages or wound covers.
- Add a few drops on the pillow or in the air; if it is in a spray bottle and previously diluted it is better.
Or you can just smell the oil in the bottle. Remove the cap and move it under your nose while you take a few deep breaths.
Essential oils for rheumatoid arthritis symptom relief
There are a number of aromas that are recommended for people with RA. These can be used to gently massage areas of discomfort, as they are said to be soothing and refreshing, exactly what a person with hot and swollen joints would want.
The main aromatherapy options to support someone suffering from inflammation and pain from rheumatoid arthritis are: Copaiba (obtained from the trunk of a tree of the same name) and Vetiver (from the root of a grass grown in Haiti and other countries). You can use them separately, or better yet, mix them up.
Also, the oils of ginger, eucalyptus, turmeric, basil and evening primrose oil, in addition to providing excellent aroma, are excellent anti-inflammatories.
Once symptoms are under control, aromatherapy can be used to benefit your overall health, manage stress, decrease toxic load, support the immune system, and help you fall asleep.
To improve sleep and relaxation, lavender, cedar, sandalwood and frankincense oils are exemplary. Here again, use them individually or in combination, or even mix them with your vetiver-copaiba mix for pain.
Oils to get you high when you need a stimulant include wild orange and peppermint, which can also be added to your vetiver and copaiba mix.
Before using aromatherapy for arthritis these considerations, you should have
Although this therapy is considered safe, you should know that the main side effect of properly administered aromatherapy is a possible skin rash, however, there are few drawbacks to trying it. Of course, you will want to consult with your doctor if you have any concerns.
To use essential oils safely, you should not swallow them. (This is why it is important to keep them away from small children and pets.)
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) also recommends using oils in a well-ventilated area, avoiding contact with your eyes, and keeping them away from light or heat (which can damage brittle oils), and not using them if you experience irritation.
Remember that no complementary therapy, including aromatherapy, should replace the medications prescribed by your doctor.
If you have moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis, the best way to relieve symptoms is by treating this condition with a professional. There are holistic ways and conventional ways. Obviously, we will not go into those details because what concerns us in this article are essential oils and their benefits as a complementary treatment.
How to find quality essential oils
Aromatherapy oils can be purchased at most health food stores or online.
Because there are so many essential oils, each with different effects, it is ideal to work with a professional aromatherapist who can customize the oils for your specific situation.