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With All the Negative News about NSAIDs Is Aromatherapy a Viable Alternative for Pain Relief?

A few years ago my son and I were sitting in Dr. Nevin's office. My son had injured his ankle and was in a lot of pain. He had fractured a growth plate in his ankle with a similar injury before so we were just being cautious and having it checked. It turned out to be just a sprain and to my surprise I got my first warning about the new findings concerning non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen. In the past the standard protocol included rest and pain meds. The Dr. said use them only if he really needs them. He mentioned new studies showed they've been linked to increased risk of heart disease or stroke. I was kind of stunned to hear this from our Dr. (and glad he stayed up on the research). I personally used to reach for ibuprofen often, really often, to combat knee pain caused by the result of an injury and surgery. After a few years of a hefty daily dose of "Advil" I decided to go a more natural route using glucosamine and chondroitin, then finally settling on herbs and krill oil to help reduce inflammation in my knee. But for many these OTC pain relievers are regular fare.

Some of the news is quite alarming. OTC NSAIDs are intended for short term use (10 days or less) but new studies indicate even this can be risky. In a study from the University of Montreal Research Center, published in the BMJ, researchers found an increased risk of heart attack within the first week of NSAIDs use. They looked at data from 447,000 participants and from that those who took NSAIDs at any dose for one week had an increased risk of heart attack compared to those who did not. (1) Of the participants 61,460 had heart attacks. Researchers also found that risk increased with dose. The FDA now recommends that NSAID users take the lowest effective dose for the shortest time possible. Some of the other more serious side from NSAIDs use aside from heart attack , heart disease, and stroke, include high blood pressure, liver or kidney failure, allergic reaction (more common in asthmatics), and gastrointestinal bleeding. Less serious side effects include stomach pain, nausea, heartburn, tinnitus (ringing in ears), increased blood pressure, and increased bleeding.

As a result one may consider natural alternatives to pain relief and inflammation. People may turn to hot/cold therapy, massage, chiropractic care, acupuncture, physical therapy, and natural remedies such as herbs or aromatherapy.

But are such treatments effective? We won't explore all these treatments here but let's consider the effectiveness of aromatherapy as a relatively easy, inexpensive way to attempt to combat pain.

There are numerous studies and antidotal evidence that supports the effectiveness of essential oils in soothing muscle and joint aches, soothing labor and gynecological pain, headache, and chronic pain and many essential oils are know to contain aromatic compounds that have been shown to have analgesic anti-spasmodic, and anti-inflammatory effects. Essential oils can be inhaled, used topically, and under the care of a qualified aromatherapist used internally. Effective oils include lavender, peppermint, black pepper, rosemary, clove bud*, juniper berry, lemongrass*, ginger, eucalyptus, cypress, spike lavender, and marjoram among others (* possible skin sensitivity -- dilute these oils and use at <1%).

For example a 2014 study in the Journal of Complementary Medicine found essential oils were effective in improving neck pain. (2). A meta-analysis of aromatherapy's effectiveness against pain concluded that " aromatherapy can successfully treat pain when combined with conventional treatments".(3) And a on various studies of essential oils and pain from indicates essential oils have been used successfully to treat the pain of tonsillectomy, migraines, kidney stones (when used with conventional therapy), neuropathic pain, menstrual pain, and pain associated with cancer. Recommendations for essential oil use against pain are also included on the sites such as Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network and Arthritis Foundation. Further information on the use of essential oils for pain management in a clinical setting can be found in Jane Buckle's book Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils and Healthcare or on her website. As one can see there are numerous successes in treating and managing pain with essential oils. This treatment can often be used in conjunction with traditional therapy although it is important to discuss these options with your health care provider.

Suggestions on How to Use Aromatherapy:

1. Diffusing or inhaling lavender (or other relaxing oils) can help one relax and promote a positive metal state to help in dealing with pain. Inhaling essential oils is effective against headache. Alternatively an aromatherapy inhaler, tissue, or cotton ball can be used.

2. Essential oil massage can have analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. Add 15-18 drops of desired oils to carrier oil (jojoba, fractionated coconut oil, etc.) or unscented lotion and apply to areas of concern.

Sample Recipe idea for Acute Aches:

1 ounce unscented lotion

5 drops peppermint (Menta x piperita)

5 drops rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

3 drops lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

2 drops juniper berry (Juniperus communis)

Add lotion to glass or PET plastic jar. Add essential oils and mix well to combine. Apply as needed to areas of concern. Oil amount can be decreased for longer term use.

If you have questions about essential oils that ease muscle, joint, or other aches please contact Tricia. Or download her free eBook for additional information about choosing essential oils for therapeutic purposes.


1 Bally, M. et al., (2017), Risk of acute myocardial infarction with NSAIDs in real world use: bayesian meta-analysis of individual patient data,

2: Ou MC1, Lee YF, Li CC, Wu SK., Pub, (2014), The effectiveness of essential oils for patients with neck pain: a randomized controlled study.

3. Lackhan, S et. al., U.S. National Library of Medicine, (2016), The Effectiveness of Aromatherapy in Reducing Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,


*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.

The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images and information, contained on or available through this web site is for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical treatment of delay seeking medical treatment as a result of something you've read on this website.

I am a professional certified aromatherapist not a health care professional.

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