Fibromyalgia is a chronic musculoskeletal disorder and a class of rheumatic disease, which is believed to affect the way the body processes pain signals. It is marked by pain throughout the body, fatigue, mental fog, depression, cramps, and sleep disturbances.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, fibromyalgia affects between 2 and 4 percent of people. Up to 90 percent of people with the condition are women. At present, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. Treatment is based on managing the symptoms.
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Essential oils and fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia causes chronic pain, fatigue, depression, and other symptoms.
People with fibromyalgia may experience relief from both physical and mental symptoms through the use of essential oils.
In general, research suggests that essential oils offer therapeutic potential in pain relief.
Studies specifically on essential oils for fibromyalgia, other rheumatic conditions, and pain management are limited. However, the following essential oils may help with symptoms of fibromyalgia:
In one study, basil oil was found to produce painkilling effects on mice with chronic muscle pain. This finding led the researchers to suggest basil oil as a potential method of pain relief for those with fibromyalgia.
This essential oil is extracted from red chilies. It contains capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers, which is well-documented as a pain reliever.
In one study, people with severe fibromyalgia applied topical capsaicin three times per day for 6 weeks. The treatment led to significant improvements in terms of pain relief and overall well-being.
It has also been suggested that concentrated capsaicin patches can reduce neuropathic pain for up to 12 weeks.
Research from 2015 suggests that inhaling cedarwood essential oil alleviates post-surgery pain in mice by influencing the way the body experiences pain.
A review of research on clove essential oil suggests that it may be a possible method to relieve pain.
The researchers suggest that clove oil may be so effective because it contains eugenol in high concentrations (88.58 percent). Eugenol is commonly used as a local antiseptic and anesthetic.
Ginger and orange
Those treated experienced an improvement in physical function and a reduction in pain, when compared with those that received a placebo, or no treatment at all. These benefits were still observable at the 1 week follow-up, but not at the 4 week review.
This study indicates an aromatherapy massage using these essential oils can effectively reduce pain in the short term. Be careful when using citrus oils if going out in the sun, as some research has suggested that they may cause sunburn.
Recent research found that an aromatherapy massage using lavender oil effectively reduced pain in people with osteoarthritis of the knee.
Pain levels were reduced immediately after the treatment, and remained lowered at 1 week post-treatment. However, the pain relief did not last long-term. At the 4 week follow-up, the pain had returned.
Multiple oil blend
Research that looked at the effects of a commercially available essential oil blend on people with fibromyalgia found that, following 4 weeks of treatment, improvements were experienced in night pain, strength, and tender point pain thresholds.
The oil blend tested comprised white camphor oil, aloe vera oil, eucalyptus oil, lemon oil, orange oil, peppermint oil, and rosemary oil.
How to use essential oils for fibromyalgia
Essential oil should not be applied directly to the skin without diluting it first. Alternately, it can be inhaled using a diffuser or oil burner.
Essential oils can be used in the following ways:
- Topically. Do not apply undiluted essential oils directly to the skin. Essential oils must be mixed with a carrier oil. Mix a few drops of an essential oil with 1 ounce of carrier oil (such as coconut oil, sweet almond oil, or olive oil) before applying to the skin. It can also be used as a massage oil. Mixed oils can also be added into bathwater.
- Inhaled. The oils can be inhaled directly, or placed in an essential oil diffuser or burner.
To ease fibromyalgia and other pain conditions, it is best to use essential oils on a regular basis. Some of the above studies suggest that the beneficial effects of the oils do not endure beyond a few days, so regular application may help to keep the pain at bay.
Risks and considerations
Although essential oils are considered a natural remedy, they carry some risks. It is important for people to keep the following in mind:
- Essential oils should not be ingested. Although some people may recommend taking essential oils by mouth, these products are highly concentrated. They can have serious side effects if taken incorrectly in this manner.
- It is possible to be allergic to essential oils. People should test their chosen essential oil by mixing it in a carrier oil and putting a small amount, about the size of a dime, on their forearm. If there is no reaction, it should be safe to use. Test each new essential oil in the same manner.
- Look out for unwanted side effects. While these oils have been shown in studies to have beneficial effects, they may have negative effects too. If any undesirable side effects are experienced, people should stop using them and consult a doctor. Risk varies depending on age, health status, and medications.
- Check for drug interactions. Essential oils can interact with common prescription drugs. Those on medication should consult a doctor before using essential oils, especially if intending to use them on the skin.
- Always use a carrier oil. Undiluted oils can cause skin irritation, blisters, or rash. Some oils can also increase sensitivity to light, especially citrus oils. People should dilute essential oils with a carrier oil such as almond oil, coconut oil, or jojoba oil.
- Choose a reputable brand. There is considerable variation between essential oils in terms of potency and quality.
Other natural remedies and lifestyle changes
There are several other natural treatments for fibromyalgia that vary in effectiveness from person to person. A combination of treatments tends to work best.
Some natural remedies and lifestyle changes include:
Massage therapy can help people with fibromyalgia manage their symptoms.
- Acupuncture. There is some research to suggest that certain acupuncture therapies can ease symptoms for some people with fibromyalgia.
- Exercise. Regular gentle exercises such as yoga, walking, swimming, and Pilates may help to decrease pain symptoms and fatigue, and improve mood and sleep.
- Massage. According to the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association, regular massage therapy can improve chronic pain and fibromyalgia symptoms. Massage with the essential oils listed above may be particularly beneficial.
- Sleep. Setting a regular sleep schedule - with the same bedtime and wake time - helps ease fatigue.
- Stress management. Managing fibromyalgia means reducing both physical and emotional symptoms of stress. Several techniques can help with this, including meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and breathing exercises.
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Working with a therapist who practices CBT can help people to develop new coping strategies. It can help people to change thoughts, behaviors, and emotions to better manage pain and other symptoms.
A 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. These changes were still experienced 6 months after treatment ended.
When to see a doctor
People should see a doctor if any of the symptoms of fibromyalgia persist, or if symptoms get worse.
Common fibromyalgia symptoms include:
- difficulty with focus and concentration
- muscle spasms
- widespread pain
Complications associated with fibromyalgia include an impaired ability to function and increased anxiety.
Causes and risk factors
While researchers are not sure of the exact cause of fibromyalgia, the following factors are thought to play a role:
- Genetics. A family history of fibromyalgia is a risk factor.
- Inflammation. Inflammation around groups of blood vessels and nerves can cause an over-reactive nervous system.
- Infection. Certain infections trigger onset.
- Other disorders. People with other rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or lupus, are at increased risk of fibromyalgia.
- Psychological distress. Some research suggests that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a potential risk factor for fibromyalgia. Trauma and PTSD ignite inflammatory responses in the body that can lead to pain and disease.
- Physical trauma. A physical injury, such as a car accident or through surgery, can bring on symptoms.
- Sex. Women are more likely than men to develop fibromyalgia.
Those who are considering using essential oils for fibromyalgia, particularly if taking multiple medications, may wish to speak to their doctor before beginning treatment.