Essential oils for arthritis are concentrated oils with anti-inflammatory and anti-pain properties that are extracted from plants, fruits, herbs, trees, and flowers. Parts of the plants (leaves, flower, bark, etc.) are steamed or pressed to create the oil. By some estimates, it can take several pounds of the plant to come up with just one bottle of essential oil.
More than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have arthritis, which is often treated with medications and physical therapy. And while those therapies are seen as the gold standard when it comes to reducing the pain and swelling associated with arthritis, they aren’t the only weapons available.
Essential oils contain vitamins, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories that may help ease arthritis pain and swelling, although they won’t necessarily stop the progression of the disease.
Types of Essential Oils for Arthritis
There are dozens of essential oils, all with unique smells, properties, and characteristics. How essential oils help relieve arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis (a condition characterized by chronic inflammation of joint linings) and osteoarthritis (in which cushioning cartilage wears away) is varied.
Some essential oils for arthritis provide numbing effects. Some curb inflammation. Some interrupt pain-receptors in the brain. And some work in a combination of ways. Here, just a few essential oils used for arthritis and the science that backs them up.
One study looking at people who got knee replacement surgery (a common surgery for people with osteoarthritis in the knee joint) found that those who inhaled eucalyptus oil for 30 minutes on three consecutive days post-surgery reported less pain than those in the control group.
The researchers think the reduced pain may be due to eucalyptus oil’s anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to increase serotonin, a brain chemical that seems to blunt pain.
Ginger has been used for centuries for its anti-inflammatory effects. People in one study who massaged ginger oil into their arthritic knees twice a week stated they had less pain and better movement in their knees than those who didn’t use the oil.
Patients with osteoarthritic knee pain who used an ointment containing 5% curcumin (which originates from turmeric) twice a day for six weeks reported significantly less pain than those who used a petroleum jelly product. Curcumin blocks cytokines (proteins secreted by cells) and enzymes that can cause inflammation.
Copaiba Oil Mix
Study subjects with arthritis in their hands were divided into two groups. One group received a hand massage with copaiba oil (which is derived from copaiba trees, found in Brazil) combined with a product that contained wintergreen, camphor, and peppermint, among other things. The other group was massaged with coconut oil.
Both groups were massaged twice a day for five days. At the end of the study, the copaiba group took less time to perform tasks with their hands, had increased finger strength, and reported a 50% reduction in pain.
Pads containing drops of orange oil were placed on the collars of people admitted to the emergency room with broken bones; the pads were replaced every hour. Researchers found that people exposed to the orange oil reported less pain than those who didn’t receive the oil.
While this study didn’t look at arthritis, per se, it stands to reason that orange oil—which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties—may help with the pain associated with joint disease.
Lavender Oil Mix
Subjects with rheumatoid arthritis who had their knees massaged with coconut oil containing 5% lavender, juniper, and cananga oils (cananga trees are native to India) three times a week for six weeks reported less pain and fatigue than those who didn’t get the treatment.
Using Essential Oils
Most essential oils used for arthritis and joint diseases are massaged into the skin around the affected joint. In some cases they’re inhaled (called aromatherapy). When using essential oils, look for ones that are 100% pure oil without added ingredients (such as alcohol) and choose ones manufactured in dark bottles, as light can degrade the oil.
Massaging With Essential Oils
Follow these steps:
- Choose a carrier oil such as coconut, avocado, almond, or jojoba oil.
- Mix several drops (10-20, typically) in an ounce or so of the carrier oil. Don’t use essential oils directly on the skin. Undiluted, they can be irritating.
- Massage into skin.
Aromatherapy With Essential Oils
Enjoy aromatherapy in these different ways:
- Mix several drops of an essential oil with a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil or milk and add it to your bath.
- Place a couple of drops of essential oil on a cotton puff and place in a plastic bag. Take out the puff and smell periodically throughout the day.
- Add 30-45 drops of an essential oil to a spray bottle filled with 3 ounces of water. Spritz your home, office, or even your bedsheets.
Use Essential Oils in Communal Areas With Care
Essential oils sprayed or diffused into the air can affect everyone who breathes that air—and sometimes they can have unintended consequences. While you might find the smell of peppermint oil invigorating, it can agitate very young children and may present a problem for people who have a fast heartbeat. Some people with asthma report more problems breathing when certain oils are used in a diffuser.
Side effects can vary depending on how and how often you use the oils, which oils you use, and at what strength you use them. Side effects can include:
- Skin irritation: This can especially occur when the oil is left on the skin for a long time. Certain oils, including bergamot, lemongrass, and oregano, are among some of the more irritating ones. Signs you’re having an allergic reaction to an oil include a red, itchy skin rash or hives (raised, red itchy bumps on the skin).
- Sun sensitivity: This may especially be noted when the oil is used before going outside in the sun.
- Hormonal issues: Lavender and tea tree oil, when used over a long period of time, have been associated with breast growth in boys who haven’t yet reached puberty.
Talk to your doctor before using essential oils for arthritis. Let your doctor know about any current medications or supplements to help avoid interactions with essential oils.
A Word From Verywell
The pain of arthritis can affect every aspect of your life. It can limit your mobility and reduce the quality of your life. Using essential oils to treat arthritis may be a helpful complement to standard medical therapy. Your doctor can advise you on what, how, and when to use essential oils for arthritis or refer you to a holistic health specialist who can guide you.