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Rheumatoid arthritis can cause chronic inflammation and pain in the joints. Many people use essential oils to relieve these symptoms, but do the oils really work?

People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) experience an inflammation of the synovial lining; a connective tissue that lines the inside of the joint capsule. This causes an excess of synovial fluid in the joints, which increases swelling and inflammation, and further pain and stiffness.

Essential oils cannot cure this condition, but evidence suggests that they can help relieve major symptoms of RA and osteoarthritis, especially inflammation, swelling, stiffness, and pain.

Read on, to learn which oils most effectively reduce symptoms of RA, how to use them, and which carrier oils to blend them with. We also discuss the risks associated with using essential oils.

While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA does not monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It is important to talk with a healthcare professional before using essential oils and research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.

Eucalyptus essential oil for treating rheumatoid arthritis.Share on Pinterest
Eucalyptus essential oil may help to ease the symptoms of RA.

Essential oils are made from the liquid essence of plants. This essence is made up of the compounds that give a plant its taste and smell.

Using pressure or steam, the oils are usually extracted from the plant’s bark, leaves, blossoms, or roots.

Few large-scale studies involving humans have determined the effects of aromatherapy on RA exclusively. However, essential oils and aromatherapy are considered safe to use for RA, alongside conventional treatments.

Below are six of the best essential oils for RA symptoms, with scientific evidence that shows their effectiveness:

1. Eucalyptus

Several compounds in eucalyptus have been shown to reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain.

A 2013 study involved people who underwent total knee replacement surgery. Those who inhaled preparations of eucalyptus essential oil at 30-minute intervals for 3 days in a row noticed a reduction in pain, and they also had lower levels of blood pressure.

Most research recommends either inhaling eucalyptus oil directly or adding a few drops to a warm bath.

A person can purchase eucalyptus essential oil in health stores or online.

2. Frankincense

Practitioners of traditional medicine have used resin and essential oils of frankincense (Boswellia serrata Linn) for thousands of years to treat a wide variety of ailments, including chronic pain and inflammation.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, the acids in frankincense have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Boswellic acids may also help to reduce autoimmune responses and prevent cartilage damage.

3. Lavender

Lavender has long been used to help reduce pain, anxiety, and depression. It may be inhaled, applied topically, or added to a warm bath.

A 2016 study tested the effects of a 5% mixture of lavender essential oil diluted in sweet almond oil on osteoarthritis of the knee.

Participants who massaged 5 milliliters (mL) of the mixture onto their swollen joints 9 times over the course of 3 weeks reported reduced pain after the first week. However, more research is needed.

Lavender essential oil can be purchased in health stores and online.

4. Ginger

Ginger root sliced next to ginger essential oil in small bottle.Share on Pinterest
Ginger is a popular remedy for inflammation.

Ginger has long been recommended for people with chronic inflammation and pain. The spice can be added to meals or taken in supplements.

Chemicals in ginger transform into a powerful group of anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols once digested.

The essential oil of ginger may contain other compounds that ease symptoms of RA. A 2016 study found that female rats who were administered the essential oil had reduced rates of chronic joint inflammation. But more studies on people are needed.

5. Turmeric essential oil

The active ingredients in turmeric or curcumin may have anti-inflammatory properties. It has been shown to help improve circulation.

A review published in 2016 reports that turmeric extract appears to reduce symptoms of arthritis, though more research is needed.

A 20100 study funded in part by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, an American government agency, found that turmeric essential oils reduced joint inflammation in rats. Research is underway to determine the effects on people.

6. Basil

Basil contains a wide variety of potentially therapeutic compounds.

The essential oil contains 1.8-cineole, which has anti-inflammatory effects. It also contains linalool, a compound that has been shown to reduce swelling in mice and rats.

A 2013 study found that rats with induced arthritis had reduced joint swelling after being orally administered 150–300 mg/kilogram of basil essential oil extract daily.

They also had less edema and a lower risk of cartilage damage. Edema refers to a buildup of fluid and is associated with inflammation.

Different essential oils can be mixed to produce enhanced or more varied effects.

A 2016 study found that people with RA who received 30 minutes of aromatherapy massage to their arthritic knees on a regular basis experienced diminished short-term pain after 2 weeks. They also reported a reduction in fatigue after the fourth week.

The mixture used in the massage included lavender, juniper, ylang-ylang, and rosemary essential oils in a ratio of 3:3:2:2. The essential oils were diluted evenly into 100 mL of coconut oil.

Essential oils are usually inhaled or massaged into the skin.

A person can:

  • Place a few drops into hot water and inhale the steam.
  • Use a diffuser, which dilutes essential oils in 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 coverings.

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Coconut oil can be used as a carrier for essential oils.

Essential oils must be mixed with carrier oils before being applied to the skin or else they can have very harsh effects. A person should always do a patch test before trying a new-to-them essential oil. Some carrier oils include:

  • coconut oil
  • olive oil
  • amla oil
  • jojoba oil
  • grape-seed oil
  • almond oil
  • argan oil
  • evening primrose oil

Speak with a doctor before using essential oils to reduce symptoms of RA. While these oils have been used medicinally for thousands of years, some can be dangerous when misused. They can also have dangerous interactions with RA medications.

A person should never replace prescribed medication for RA with complementary therapies. The disease-modifying antirheumatic medications used to treat RA have been shown to reduce inflammation in the fluid that lines the joints.

Without proper treatment, RA can lead to serious, permanent complications, such as bone and cartilage damage.

A majority of the essentials oils used to treat chronic inflammation and pain are not known to cause adverse reactions. However, potential risks include:

  • headaches, rashes, or gastrointestinal problems
  • sun sensitivity when essential oils, particularly those derived from citrus fruits, are used on the skin
  • enhanced activity of the female sex hormone and decreased activity of the male, with lavender and tea tree oils

Essential oils have not been shown to slow the progression of RA. But early research suggests that compounds in certain oils may reduce major symptoms, such as pain, stiffness, inflammation, and anxiety.

Though most essential oils are safe, speak with a doctor before trying them and do not stop using regular RA medications.

Essential oils listed in this article, are available in stores and online:

Shop for eucalyptus essential oil.

Shop for frankincense essential oil.

Shop for lavender essential oil.

Shop for evening primrose oil.

Shop for ginger essential oil.

Shop for turmeric essential oil.

Shop for basil essential oil.