Essential oils are concentrated aromatic liquids that derive from plants. Some research has suggested that they provide a range of health benefits and ease the symptoms of several medical conditions, including fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic musculoskeletal condition and type of rheumatic disease. Healthcare professionals believe that it affects the way the body processes pain signals.
At present, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. Treatment involves managing the symptoms and improving a person’s quality of life.
In this article, we look at some essential oils that may help provide relief from the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
In general, research has suggested that essential oils have therapeutic potential for pain management.
That said, studies into the effects of essential oils on fibromyalgia, other rheumatic conditions, and chronic pain are limited.
However, the following essential oils may help with some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
In one 2015 study, basil oil had pain relieving effects for mice with chronic muscle pain.
This finding led the researchers to suggest basil oil as a potential method of pain relief for people with fibromyalgia.
This essential oil derives from red chilies. It contains capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers. Capsaicin is well documented as a pain reliever.
In an older study from 2013, participants with severe fibromyalgia applied topical capsaicin (0.075% concentration) three times daily over a period of 6 weeks. They experienced significant short term improvements in their pain levels.
In one 2017 review, people with severe neuropathic pain applied a single-dose high concentration (8%) capsaicin patch to the skin. The treatment led to significant improvements in pain relief, sleep hygiene, and quality of life.
However, this review does not look at fibromyalgia specifically, even though it examines the effects of capsaicin on deep pain. The conclusion also mentions that some of the evidence is very low quality.
It also suggests that people may need to receive a local anesthetic before using high concentration capsaicin, as it can cause intense stinging on application.
Research from 2015 suggests that inhaling cedarwood essential oil relieves postsurgical pain in mice by influencing the way their bodies experience pain.
Ginger and orange
Although the study did not focus on fibromyalgia pain, its findings suggest that orange and ginger aromatherapy may provide some benefits when a person uses it alongside other treatments.
Recent research found that an aromatherapy massage using lavender oil was effective in reducing pain related to osteoarthritis of the knee.
Pain levels dropped immediately after the treatment and remained low 1 week after treatment. There were also no side effects and some ongoing benefits.
However, the pain relief was not long term. At the 4 week follow-up, the pain had returned.
People can use essential oils in the following ways:
As a topical treatment
Do not apply undiluted essential oils directly to the skin. People should mix essential oils with a carrier oil before applying them.
Mix a few drops of an essential oil with 1 ounce of a carrier oil — such as coconut oil, sweet almond oil, or olive oil — before applying to the skin.
The mixture can also serve as a massage oil. People can also add mixed oils into bathwater.
People may inhale the oils directly or place them in an essential oil diffuser or burner.
To ease fibromyalgia and other pain conditions, it is best to use essential oils regularly. Some studies have suggested that the beneficial effects of the oils do not last more than a few days, so regular use may help keep the pain at bay for longer.
Although essential oils are a natural remedy, they do carry some risks. People should keep the following in mind when using them:
- People should not ingest essential oils. Although some recommend taking essential oils by mouth, these products are highly concentrated. They can have serious side effects if a person takes them in this manner.
- Some people are allergic to essential oils. People should test their chosen essential oil by mixing it in a carrier oil and putting a small amount on their forearm. If there is no reaction, it should be safe to use. It is best to test each new essential oil in the same way.
- Check for unwanted side effects. Although these oils may have beneficial effects, they may also have negative effects. If a person experiences any undesirable side effects, they should stop using the oil and consult a doctor. Risk varies depending on a person’s age, health status, and any medications they take.
- Check for potential drug interactions. Essential oils can interact with common prescription drugs. People taking medication should consult a doctor before using essential oils, especially if they intend to use them on the skin.
- Always use a carrier oil. Undiluted oils can cause skin irritation, blistering, or rashes. Some oils, especially citrus oils, can also increase a person’s sensitivity to light. People should dilute essential oils with a carrier oil such as almond oil, coconut oil, or jojoba oil.
- Choose a reputable brand. The quality of essential oils varies greatly between brands in terms of potency and quality. Be sure to source high quality oils.
There are several other natural treatments for fibromyalgia. Some of these may vary in effectiveness from person to person. A combination of treatments tends to work best. An individual may have to try several treatments before finding an option that works for them.
Some natural remedies and lifestyle changes include:
According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, regular massage therapy can improve chronic pain and fibromyalgia symptoms. Massage with the above essential oils may provide extra benefits for some people.
Setting a regular sleep schedule may help people with fibromyalgia relieve fatigue.
Part of managing fibromyalgia involves reducing the physical and emotional symptoms of stress. Several techniques can support stress relief, including meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and breathing exercises.
Cognitive behavior therapy
Working with a therapist who practices cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can help people with fibromyalgia develop new coping strategies. It can help them adjust their thoughts, behaviors, and emotions to better manage their pain and other symptoms.
A 2013 review of research found that 12 weeks of CBT led to a slight reduction in pain, negative mood, and disability in people of all ages with fibromyalgia.
Also, people still felt the benefits of these improvements 6 months after the end of treatment.
People should seek consultation with a doctor if any of the symptoms of fibromyalgia persist, or if they get worse.
Common fibromyalgia symptoms include:
- difficulty with focus and concentration
- muscle spasms
- widespread pain
- chronic pelvic and bladder pain
- inflammatory bowel disease
- irritable bowel syndrome
- sleep issues, such as insomnia
- issues with the autonomic nervous system, such as a rapid heart rate, dry eye, and orthostatic hypotension
Some complications of fibromyalgia include an impaired ability to function and increased anxiety.
People considering using essential oils to treat fibromyalgia may wish to speak to their doctor before beginning treatment, particularly if they are taking multiple medications.
Conventional treatments are not effective against my presentation of fibromyalgia. What are my next steps?
If standard medications such as amitriptyline are not effective, a doctor should make sure that other conditions, such as hypothyroidism, have been excluded. People should try lifestyle management techniques, including restorative sleep, exercise, and stress management.
If a person has tried lifestyle management strategies without benefit after 6–8 weeks, they should ask their treating physician for a referral to a physical therapist. This type of practitioner can recommend a personalized management program. A CBT training program might also be helpful.
People with fibromyalgia might also wish to try water exercise in a heated pool, tai chi, and yoga. People should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medications for fibromyalgia with a doctor.
Nancy Carteron, MD, FACR Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.