How to Use Essential Oils for Pain Relief

By Katelyn Piziali

Up until about nine months ago, Advil was my go-to solution for everything pain-related. Sore neck? Pop an Advil. Headache? Try three. Then, one day, my friend told me she was hosting a DIY essential oils workshop. I’d heard of essential oils before and even sampled some with a friend at Whole Foods once. I figured it was just like making your own perfume from scratch, which I’d always wanted to try. So, I went -- and, boy, did I learn a lot. Sure, essential oils are known for their fragrance, but it turns out that their purpose goes far beyond aromatic pleasantries.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are naturally occurring, hydrophobic liquids found in different plants and contain aromatic compounds. These compounds are what give each plant its signature scent and can be found in the roots, seeds, flowers, leaves, peels, and other components of the plant. The fragrant constituents are sometimes referred to as “volatile aromatic compounds,” which just means they change state quickly from liquid to gas. This allows the essential oil to move quickly through the air and interact with our olfactory sensors in the nose, making them popular for use in aromatherapy. And because essential oils are hydrophobic, or lipophilic (meaning fat soluble), they can easily move through our bodies when we apply them.

Where Do Essential Oils Come From?

Essential oils can be extracted from plants in several ways. The most common methods include distillation, cold pressing, and resin tapping. Distillation is a popular technique where a combination of steam passing through the plant and pressure draws the essential oils out to be extracted. Cold pressing is a more mechanical method that involves crushing or pressing seeds and peels of plants to force the essential oils out.

Why I Use Essential Oils for Pain Relief

Instead of automatically reaching for the Advil bottle, now I’ve found a natural solution that works for me. I love using essential oils because I know I’m taking better care of my body, while also being conscious of what exactly it is I’m putting into my body in the first place.

When I experience random aches, I use a roller bottle of panaway, which is a blend of wintergreen, helichrysum, clove, and peppermint essential oils. I apply the oil topically to wherever I’m sore, allow it to soak in, and then the pain dissipates within 10 to 15 minutes.

For the record, while essential oils have worked for me and many others in treating pain, these products are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So just make sure to do your own research before deciding whether essential oils are right for you.

5 Popular Pain-Relief Essential Oils 

Essential oils have served as supplements for a wide range of products over the years--from perfumes to soaps to food flavorings. More recently, people have started to discover the potential healing properties of essential oils -- especially when it comes to treating pain. Some research suggests that essential oils may help treat symptoms of ailments like headaches, inflammation, sleep disorders, and respiratory problems. Here’s a list of of five popular pain relief essential oils and their array of beneficial properties:

  • Lavender - Used in treating insomnia, pain relief, respiratory disorders, skin care, hair care, blood circulation, indigestion, and immune system health.
  • Clary sage - Used in treating depression, convulsions, spasms, bacterial removal, digestive health, lowering blood pressure, and mitigating emotions and anxiety.
  • Peppermint - Used for pain relief, as a way to induce numbness, relax muscles, prevent hair loss, clearing congestion, and reducing fevers.
  • Eucalyptus - Used to treat muscle pain, respiratory problems, wounds, mental exhaustion, skin care, and fevers.
  • Helichrysum - Used in treating spasms, allergies, microbial infections, fevers, clearing phlegm, reducing coughs, and healing scars.

How 5 Others Use Essential Oils for Pain Relief

We asked five people how they use essential oils for daily pain relief and why they opt for oils over pills. Here’s what they said:

1. Madison - PMS & Cramps

“I have been using essential oils for about a year now -- not only to treat the immediate pain of cramps, but to also prevent or lessen them. I find that a lot of the time, the reason for pain stems back to another problem. For example, my horrible cramps went back to [a] hormone imbalance and endocrine disruptors. So if you are having any kind of pain, I think it’s great to use oils for immediate relief, but you should also look into why this pain is occurring.”

“For about a week before my period starts, I apply a blend of clary sage, fennel, lavender, marjoram, yarrow and jasmine oils topically to my lower abdomen at least twice a day,” Madison says. “This alleviates some of the dreaded pain because it helps balance and regulate my hormones. If I start getting cramps, that’s when I bust out a blend of peppermint, lemon, balsam fir, copaiba, clove, wintergreen, helichrysum, vetiver, and palo santo oils. I also apply this topically, diluted with some fractionated coconut oil, over my lower abdomen. I love topical application because you can get that targeted support for the areas in need.”

Madison adds: “I love the fact that I can use something natural over something synthetically made. It’s pretty interesting that a ton of our modern day pharmaceuticals were actually once derived from plants, like Aspirin. If you could switch out the medicine you’re on now, ridden with synthetics and side effect,s for a natural, safe, and budget friendly option, wouldn’t you?”

2. Hailey - Chronic Pain

“Living with a chronic illness like my late-stage Lyme disease and experiencing chronic pain has exposed me to many different treatments and healing modalities. While I do not attempt to treat Lyme itself with essential oils, I do use them to help ease some of the symptoms of the disease. I use essential oils to help treat migraines, headaches, swollen lymph nodes, muscle pain, joint pain, and back pain. They are not a ‘cure,’ but I have personally found them to be very beneficial for fast-acting relief.”

“I use a blend of peppermint, cypress, and valor for migraines and neck stiffness,” she says. “Peppermint is great for general pain, cypress can help aid in detoxification, and valor is often referred to as a ‘chiropractor in a bottle.’ I use oils in a few different ways. Typically, I apply them topically to the area that I'm experiencing pain. Some oils are too harsh to apply directly to the skin, so I use a carrier oil to help dilute them. My favorites are coconut oil and emu oil. I also like to diffuse oils and add a few drops to detox baths.”

Hailey continues: “In the past, I have been on extensive protocols that involved dozens and dozens of pills, along with shots and various [intravenous] medications. This took a toll on my body, both physically and mentally. So whenever possible, I try to treat pain as naturally and non-invasively as I can.”

3. Pam - Migraines & Headaches

“I’m the headache queen. I started getting migraines in fourth grade, but only once a year when I was little. At 21, I started getting them every month. Now, I can knock my headache out so quickly with a drop of peppermint. Topically, the peppermint works, but I also put a drop of it on my thumb and put it against the roof of my mouth. That is always my first go-to. I’m using a 100-percent pure, therapeutic-grade essential oil for that purpose. I know ingesting it isn’t for everyone, but I’ve had amazing success with it. I also use copaiba on my face -- on either side of my nose and my forehead. That’s where I could have sinus pressure that leads to a headache, too.”

“I found oils completely on my own. I started off slow and built steam as I found new uses. Today, they are just a part of my daily life. I love my oils. When you find out that you can use something that is so gentle, bioavailable, and works better than what you’ve been using,  it’s like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I used to draw the drapes and climb into bed with my heating pad. Now, if I take the time and slow down and listen to my body, it’s a path I can avoid.”

4. Tammy - Back Pain

“I have a mild form of scoliosis, and I make a pain cream using coconut oil and a mixture of the following essential oils: panaway, peppermint, wintergreen, eucalyptus, copaiba, lavender, and Valor (black spruce, camphor, blue tansy, frankincense, and geranium essential oils). I was going to the chiropractor at least once every two months, if not more. Since I started using oils for not only back pain but for stress relief, I have not had to go to the chiropractor. He told me stress was keeping my muscles in a knot, which was pulling me out of alignment. All I know is I have been using oils for eight months and have not felt the need to go to the chiropractor.”

5. Emily - Endometriosis

“I was first introduced to essential oils for my headaches. It was a mix bottle of peppermint, orange, frankincense, and lavender. I was a little leery, but put it on my wrists and feet and had relief in about 15 minutes. Then, I was hooked.”

“I also suffer from endometriosis and use about three drops of Dragon Time (fennel, clary sage, marjoram, lavender, blue yarrow, and jasmine essential oils) on my lower abdominal area during PMS--and my cycle and my cramps are almost nonexistent,” she says. “I use [a blend called] Deep Relief (peppermint, lemon, balsam, clove, copaiba, coconut, wintergreen, helichrysum, vetiver, and dorado azul essential oils) on my lower back and down my leg for the pain with monthly cycles. I barely need Motrin or Tylenol now and they’re just because I forget my oils sometimes.”

Tips & Best Practices for Purchasing Essential Oils

We know delving into the world of essential oils can seem a bit overwhelming. There are so many different brands, oils, and application methods. Where do you even begin? Well, for starters,  check out our list below for tips and best practices to keep in mind while you’re researching before you’re prepared to commit.

Buy The Best

Most essential oil brands can be found online, or even on Amazon. Some popular companies include Young Living, doTERRA, Edens Garden, Plant Therapy, and Now Foods (NOW) essential oils.

Quality Over Quantity

When you’re looking into buying essential oils, it’s important to make sure the oils you purchase are unadulterated. That means they are 100-percent pure and aren’t laden with other chemicals, additives, synthetic molecules, or carrier oils.

Get To Know Your Oils

When you’re first getting into essential oils, it can be difficult to remember what oils are designed to treat any given ailment. That’s why I have an app on my phone called Reference Guide For Essential Oils, which is super helpful when you’re still learning the basics (yep, that’s still me, too). You can look up any oil by name, and it will tell you what ailments it’s meant to treat and how to apply the oil. Or you can look up ailments by name and it will tell you which oils to use for relief. I’ve used both methods before when using oils on myself and friends, and it’s been a huge help in breaking down the abundance of information and applications that come with using essential oils.