Can you use essential oils for fibromyalgia symptoms? Are they effective? Essential oils aren’t cures, but they contain medicinal compounds that could help manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia, such as pain, poor concentration, fatigue, depression, headaches, and sleep problems. If you’re looking for alternative treatments for fibromyalgia symptoms, these eight essential oils might help.
- 1 An Overview of Fibromyalgia
- 2 Most Useful Essential Oils for Fibromyalgia
An Overview of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a long-term, non-life-threatening condition that causes widespread pain and stiffness of muscles and joints. A person with this condition may also experience memory lapses, insomnia, fatigue, and mood problems.
This condition is more common than most people think. In the United States alone, there are about 10 million people who have fibromyalgia. 1 It’s more prevalent in women—approximately 75 to 90 percent of women have it—but men and children may also have it. 2
Below are the main symptoms of fibromyalgia:
Widespread body pain
The brain and spinal cord play a major role in identifying, communicating, and processing different sensations, including pain. In the case of fibromyalgia, the brain is unable to decrease painful sensation, which in turn causes the body to become more sensitive to sensations of pain. People with this condition often describe the pain as constant, intense, throbbing, sharp, or stabbing. The term “widespread” is used because the pain sensations are felt on both sides of the body, above and below the waist.
The tiredness that sufferers feel is not alleviated by sleep, even if they sleep for long periods of time. Often, they don’t get enough quality sleep because of pain and the presence of certain sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea (cessation of breathing during sleep) and restless leg syndrome (a nerve condition that causes unpleasant sensations in the legs, which leads to constant movement of legs). Since fibromyalgia drains all their energy, sufferers usually feel too exhausted to do anything.
They call it as “fibro fog.” When a person has this, he or she keeps forgetting, can’t think clearly, lacks focus, and has confused or slow speech. Although fibro fog is still open to debate, doctors and researchers believe that it’s associated with poor sleep. 3
Muscle and joint stiffness
Stiffness in the joints or muscles is usually worse in the morning or when you’ve stayed in one position for a time. The joints in the back, arms, and legs are often the areas sufferers feel stiff. It usually lasts between 15 and 20 minutes. Sometimes, it could last for hours or even an entire day. 4
A tension headache or a migraine
Out of 5 fibromyalgia sufferers, two may regularly experience mild to severe headaches or migraines. 5 The simplest things could trigger fibromyalgia-related headaches, such as insufficient water intake. For chronic headaches or migraines, experts believe stress or anxiety could be the main culprit.
Overwhelming anxiety or stress could cause muscles in the neck, face, head, and shoulders to tighten, which can cause tension headaches or migraines. Study shows that those who have fibromyalgia and headaches could experience more severe pain and depression. 6
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Statistics show that around 70 percent of people with fibromyalgia have IBS, while 60 percent of people with irritable bowel syndrome have fibromyalgia. 7
Irritable bowel syndrome is a common and chronic digestive disorder that affects the large intestine (also known as the large bowel). Experts believe that IBS is due to a defect in the communication between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract. Common symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, gas, and bloating.
Heightened anxiety or depression is common among fibromyalgia sufferers. This is because this condition is difficult to manage. The joint and muscle pain makes it hard to perform daily activities and participate in social activities, causing sufferers to become more socially withdrawn. Plus, there’s the lack of good quality sleep, which could play a role in making depression worse.
Speak with a doctor or licensed psychiatrist if you have fibromyalgia and are experiencing early signs of depression for at least two weeks:
- Feeling of sadness, which includes hopelessness or helplessness
- Losing interesting in everything that you used to love or enjoy
- Low energy
- Sleep problems, like insomnia, excessive sleeping, or early morning awakening
- Inability to focus or remember details
- Severe and persistent agitation
- Impaired decision making
Extreme skin sensitivity
For relatively healthy people, a very light touch or gentle massage doesn’t cause any pain. However, for people with fibromyalgia, these could be extremely painful. This condition is called hyperalgesia. Sometimes, sufferers could feel pain from something that’s not normally painful (allodynia), such as loud noises, bright lights, smoke, and certain foods.
What causes fibromyalgia?
- Your parents don’t directly pass on the condition to you. However, your chances of having fibromyalgia is several times higher if you have an immediate family member who has fibromyalgia compared to someone who doesn’t have a family member with fibromyalgia.
- Research studies discovered that certain types of bacteria, such as Chlamydia pneumoniae and Mycoplasma incognitos, are present in people with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. 8 These harmful bacteria are believed to be responsible for some of their symptoms.
- Emotional stress and physical trauma. A traumatic event—whether it’s getting deployed to war, a car accident, sexual or physical abuse, or any extremely stressful event—could trigger fibromyalgia. People who are under a lot of stress for prolonged periods might experience an increase in their serotonin and substance P (plays a role in nerve pain threshold) levels, which in turn leads to an exaggerated perception of pain.
Most Useful Essential Oils for Fibromyalgia
Spike Lavender Essential Oil
In most cases, the lavender essential oil you keep hearing refers to the essential oil extracted from Lavandula angustifolia (True lavender). The essential oil of Lavandula latifolia, known as spike lavender, broadleaved lavender, or Portuguese lavender, is steam distilled from the flowering tops of the plant. It’s a colorless oil that smells fresh, sweet, herb-like, and floral, but with a stronger camphor scent.
Spike lavender essential oil is more popular among aromatherapy enthusiasts and herbal oil manufacturers and suppliers for many reasons. Compared to the other two lavender essential oil varieties, it’s more energizing and promotes better focus and concentration.
It’s also more suitable for relieving sores muscles, arthritic pain, and other types of aches and pains due to its high levels of camphor. 9
Camphor is a common ingredient in many ointments, balms, salves, and creams for painful muscles and joints. When applied on the skin in moderate dosages, camphor can work as an anti-inflammatory agent and mild pain reliever. As a counterirritant, it changes the way your brain perceives pain by irritating your skin and producing brief hot and cold sensations.
Spike lavender essential oil may also help suppress anxiety and manage stress symptoms, although true lavender and lavendel (Lavandula officinalis) work better. This positive effect of all three lavender essential oil varieties on a person’s mood are attributed to their linalool and linalyl acetate content.
Aside from linalool, spike lavender essential is also abundant in 1,8-cineole. 10 These two compounds (linalool and 1,8-cineole) are known for their anti-inflammatory and analgesic actions. Thus, spike lavender essential oil is often used for relieving headaches, which are common symptoms of fibromyalgia.
What Are Its Side Effects?
Spike lavender essential oil has no reported serious side effects. Use it sparingly because it has strong medicinal properties. Don’t use it before driving or operating machines and equipment because it can make you drowsy. As with all essential oils, breastfeeding or pregnant women, children, and people with health problems should seek the opinion of a qualified doctor before using it.
Marjoram Essential Oil
Marjoram could refer to either sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana) or Spanish marjoram (Thymus mastichina). Both have almost identical actions, but they somewhat differ in their chemical composition. In this instance, I’m going to focus on the therapeutic effects of sweet marjoram essential oil.
Packed with medicinal compounds, marjoram essential oil has long been known as a natural painkiller. It’s the go-to traditional remedy for muscle pain and other types of generalized soreness. p-Cymene is one of its major components that’s responsible for its ability to relieve pain. 11 12
It’s also rich in terpinen-4-ol, which is a terpene that has excellent anti-inflammatory actions, making marjoram essential oil an effective remedy for inflamed and/or painful joints and muscles.
According to a 2012 study, when combined with two other essential oils and diluted in a cream, marjoram essential oil can help relieve pain due to dysmenorrhea. 13
The essential oils the researchers used in the study are marjoram, clary sage, and lavender. Dysmenorrhea is a painful condition, but when you have fibromyalgia, the pain could get worse.
It’s also one of your best weapons against ‘fibro-fog,’ which involves memory lapses, poor concentration and attention, slowed speech, and difficulty learning new things.
How to Use:
Marjoram essential oil could help improve mental processes, such as learning, working memory, and attention, among others. 14 To chase away ‘fibro-fog,’ add 3 to 4 drops of the essential oil to your home diffuser.
What Are Its Side Effects?
Marjoram essential oil is not suitable for prolonged use because there’s a potential risk of cancer. Since it’s considered an emmenagogue, pregnant women or those who are trying to get pregnant should avoid using it because it triggers bleeding during pregnancy.
In addition, it’s contraindicated for the following medical conditions or situations 15:
- Bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia
- Slow heart rate (bradycardia)
- Lung diseases, such as asthma and emphysema
- Urinary tract obstruction
- Hypersensitivity or allergy to mint, sage, lavender, basil, or other plants belonging in the Lamiaceae plant family
- Bleeding during or after a surgery
Peppermint Essential Oil
The essential oil of peppermint (Mentha piperita) has long been valued for its pain-killing actions. It’s a common ingredient in liniments, salves, balms, and rubs to relieve sore muscles, inflamed joints, tension headaches, and tight and stiff muscles. It may also be effective in relieving pain associated with fibromyalgia and Myofascial pain syndrome (MPS), a fancy term for chronic muscle pain. 16
According to a study published in the journal Schmerz, the essential oil (at 10 percent) could rival the therapeutic effects of some over-the-counter pain meds, such as aspirin and paracetamol. 17 This therapeutic action of peppermint essential oil is due to its high percentage of menthol, which is one of Mother Nature’s most effective painkillers. Like other counterirritants, menthol works by making the skin feel cool then warm to distract you from the pain.
For headache and muscle pain, a massage oil with a 1 percent concentration of peppermint essential oil is advisable. A 1 percent concentration is equivalent to 1 drop of peppermint essential oil per teaspoon of carrier oil. After mixing your oils, perform a skin patch test before massaging it into painful areas of your body.
How to Use:
Pour a few drops of the essential oil in your home diffuser or on your handkerchief or paper towel. Then, inhale as necessary to get relief from mental fatigue, depression, or stress. You could also combine it with other essential oils, such as lavender, grapefruit, rosemary, and lemon, for stress relief and better focus.
What Are Its Side Effects?
Skin application of peppermint essential oil is normally safe, as long as you use it diluted and in small doses. Sometimes, it may irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction in some people. Possible negative skin reactions are redness and minor itching. But if you use large concentrations of the essential oil, skin damage or even necrosis (death of body tissue) can happen.
You can perform a skin patch test to know if you’re allergic to peppermint essential oil. Simply dilute the essential oil in a mild carrier oil (coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, etc.). Put a small amount of the test oil to your inner forearm and leave it for 30 minutes to 24 hours.
Sandalwood Essential Oil
Some people likened the symptoms of fibro fog to the effects of cold medications. You have a hard time concentrating, remembering new information, carrying on conversations, feeling alert, and finding the right words. In fact, the lack of mental clarity is even more distressing than the fatigue and widespread pain caused by fibromyalgia, according to a review published in the Rheumatology International. 18
Aside from being calming and mood-enhancing, sandalwood (Santalum album) essential oil also enhances mental clarity. It contains sesquiterpenes, which plays a role in human emotion and memory by stimulating the brain’s limbic system. When you inhale it, it could improve your attention, mental awareness, memory, and focus, without making you feel drowsy. 19
Approximately 20 percent of people with fibromyalgia also suffer from depression. Scientists aren’t sure how does this happens, but a link does exist. 20 Small studies suggest that sandalwood essential oil may help relieve anxiety and stress-related disorders, without negative side effects. 21 However, there are currently no large-scale, peer-reviewed studies to confirm this benefit of sandalwood essential oil.
How to Use:
One of the best ways to use sandalwood essential oil for mental clarity is to add 3 to 5 drops of the essential oil to your handkerchief, paper towel, or diffuser. Inhale it whenever necessary.
If you prefer, you could also add 2 to 5 drops of sandalwood essential oil for every 2 teaspoons of carrier oil, such as coconut oil, almond oil, or olive oil. Perform a skin patch test prior to liberal application.
Next, gently massage 1 to 2 drops of the oil on your temples, shoulders, wrists, and back of your neck for 5 minutes during times of overwhelming stress or poor concentration. If you want, you can add other essential oils for mental clarity, such as rosemary, peppermint, basil, and juniper berry, to increase its effectiveness.
What Are Its Side Effects?
Like with many essential oils, sandalwood essential oil is not suitable for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, younger children, and people with sensitive skin or allergies. Avoid the sun or other sources of ultraviolet rays (tanning beds, UV lamps, and black lights) at least 12 to 18 hours after applying the essential oil on your skin to avoid photosensitivity reactions.
Roman Chamomile Essential Oil
Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) essential oil is a perfect choice for anyone who’s under stress. Morocco, Italy, Brazil, and Sardinia are just some of the places where there’s a widespread use of this essential oil for relieving depression and anxiety symptoms. 22 Overwhelming stress can weaken your body, making you more susceptible to the symptoms of fibromyalgia, such as chronic pain, stiffness, anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
Around 75 percent of people with this condition have sleep issues (lack of sleep or poor sleep quality). Getting enough sleep is important in improving the pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia. Aside from its stress-relieving properties, a study shows that inhalation of Roman chamomile essential oil can combat insomnia and improve sleep. 23
One of the best ways to enjoy Roman chamomile essential oil’s calming and relaxing effects is through inhalation therapy. Combining Roman chamomile essential oil with lavender and neroli essential oils may help you feel less anxious. In a study published in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative medicine, when inhaled by patients in an intensive care unit, these essential oils were able to reduce their anxiety levels. 24
How to Use:
Try this anti-anxiety diffuser blend: 3 drops of Roman chamomile essential oil, 3 drops of lavender essential oil, and 2 drops of neroli essential oil. Turn on your diffuser or vaporizer throughout the day or half an hour before your bedtime to infuse your room with the uplifting and relaxing aroma of this oil blend.
What Are Its Side Effects?
Roman chamomile essential oil is one of the safest essential oils for children, if well diluted. Despite its safety and efficacy, it’s still important to speak with your doctor before using it on yourself, children, and pregnant or breastfeeding women. This has the potential to cause contact dermatitis and allergic reactions, especially if you’re allergic to chamomile, marigold, sunflower, daisy, and chrysanthemum.
Wintergreen Essential Oil
The essential oil of wintergreen (Gaultheria fragrantissima) is extracted from the leaves of the herb itself. In alternative medicine, it’s an extremely popular remedy for lower back pain, stiffed and/or painful joints, tight muscles, and pain associated with fibromyalgia. Like camphor and menthol, this organic ester is known as a counterirritant. Thanks to methyl salicylate, which compromises 85 percent to 99 percent of the essential oil, it’s considered a powerful painkiller and anti-inflammatory agent. 25
Wintergreen essential oil is not only a powerful painkiller and anti-inflammatory agent, but it’s also a relaxing essential oil. Inhaling or diffusing this throughout your home, especially your bedroom, is a great way to get a good night’s sleep. As a result, you avoid making your fibromyalgia symptoms worse. Just add 3 to 4 drops of the essential oil in your diffuser then turn it on 30 minutes to 1 hour before your bedtime. Or, you could spray a wintergreen essential oil and water mixture on your sheets and pillows.
Due to its high concentration of methyl salicylate, some experts don’t recommend people to make their own herbal medicine with wintergreen essential oil. The essential oil is potentially toxic even in small amounts. Instead, they encourage that you buy creams, gels, liniments, salves, or ointments that has been well diluted in organic carrier oils.
For pain relief, look for products that contain the essential oil and peppermint essential oil. According to an article published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, these two essential oils might increase the therapeutic effects of each other. 26
What Are Its Side Effects?
Although it’s an amazing remedy for painful muscles and joints, it still has side effects and contraindications that you need to be mindful about. Since it has high levels of methyl salicylate, using it internally could result to life-threatening consequences. Taking approximately 2 to 6 teaspoons (10ml to 30ml) of the essential oil by mouth could lead to deadly consequences. 27
Wintergreen essential oil could cause the following negative effects if you use it internally: seizures, vomiting, nausea, vertigo (a form of dizziness), rapid breathing, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and damage of the kidney and/or liver. If used externally, it may cause hives, blisters, pain, and swelling (tongue, lips, throat, or face).
This is contraindicated for:
- Children below the age of 14
- Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant because the methyl salicylate in wintergreen essential oil penetrates quickly through the skin
- People who are taking medications to prevent blood clots
- People with bleeding disorders or are sensitive to salicylate
- People who are going to undergo a major surgery
Eucalyptus Essential Oil
In traditional medicine, eucalyptus essential oil is used to treat a wide variety of ailments associated with pain and inflammation. Out of the 700 species of eucalyptus, study shows that the essential oils from Eucalyptus globulus (blue gum), Eucalyptus citriodora (lemon-scented gum), and Eucalyptus tereticornis (forest red gum) have analgesic and anti-inflammatory activities. 28 But among the three, Eucalyptus globulus has the highest percentage of cineole (60 to 70 percent), which is an organic compound that has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. 29
Due to these qualities of eucalyptus essential oil, it’s a popular active ingredient in many over-the-counter topical medicines for joint diseases, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and minor muscle injury. In fact, the result of a study published in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine has shown that patients who underwent total knee replacement had decreased blood pressure and pain levels after inhaling eucalyptus essential oil. 30
How to Use:
Make your own muscle and joint pain relief salve. Try this simple recipe:
- Place 3 teaspoons of white beeswax pellets and 4 tablespoons (0.25 cup) of coconut oil in a small saucepan then melt them over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes. You can also do this using your microwave or double boiler.
- Remove from heat. Allow the mixture to cool a little before adding 3 teaspoons of moringa oil (has excellent anti-inflammatory activity), 8 drops of eucalyptus essential oil, and 8 drops of peppermint essential oil.
- Transfer to an amber glass container. The mixture will turn solid once it has cooled. Massage on your sore joints and muscles when necessary.
- Store in a cool, dark place. Use within six months.
What Are Its Side Effects?
Topical application of eucalyptus essential oil is generally safe in most adults. Taking it by mouth will most likely cause serious side effects and can be even fatal, especially if it’s more than 0.6 gram (3.5ml). 31 Signs and symptoms of eucalyptus essential oil poisoning are vertigo, loss of muscle strength, breathing problems, abnormal constriction of eye pupils, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach ache, and nausea.
Rosemary Essential Oil
There are many reasons rosemary essential oil is great for managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia. It contains camphor, alpha-pinene, and 1,8-cineole, which are compounds responsible for its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory activities. That’s why it’s a popular remedy for joint aches, muscle pains, and headaches. 32
Does your brain feel foggy? Inhaling rosemary essential oil might help improve your mental processes. In the past, Greek scholars used the essential oil when they take exams to remember important information. And studies seem to confirm these effects. In a study published in the journal Alternative and Complementary Therapies, students who inhaled the essential oil during an exam showed higher brain function. 33
It’s also a good way to beat stress. Apparently, inhaling lavender essential oil and rosemary essential oil for 5 minutes may reduce your stress levels. 34 You could also add other essential oils for stress and anxiety, such as bergamot, chamomile, lavender, rose, vetiver, frankincense, and ylang ylang.
How to Use:
Use this blend to improve your concentration and alertness: Add 5 drops of rosemary essential oil, 3 drops of grapefruit essential oil, and 3 drops of peppermint essential oil into your diffuser. Or, you can pour 2 teaspoons of vodka or witch hazel in an amber glass spray bottle then add all the essential oils one drop at a time. Next, add 4 ounces of distilled water. Shake the bottle to mix everything well. Spray into the air when needed.
What Are Its Side Effects?
Rosemary essential oil is normally safe when you apply it on your skin, although there have been a few reports of hypersensitivity reactions, such as a rash, dermatitis, and asthma attack. Like always, apply 2 to 3 drops of diluted rosemary essential oil on your inner forearm and wait for a day or two for allergic reactions.
It’s not safe to ingest rosemary essential oil, especially in large amounts. In fact, it could be fatal because it contains toxic chemicals, such as camphor. Signs and symptoms of rosemary essential oil poisoning are nausea, vomiting, spasms, kidney irritation or damage, convulsions, or worse, death.
When You Should Call Your Doctor
Fibromyalgia is not a life-threatening condition, but it can be disabling and can affect the daily activities of sufferers. Sometimes, the psychological symptoms of fibromyalgia can take a greater toll on the lives of people than the physical symptoms. When you use them correctly, essential oils could help control the symptoms of this disorder. However, they’re not supposed to replace expert medical advice or treatments.
If you suspect you have fibromyalgia, call your doctor immediately to get a proper diagnosis and receive the appropriate treatments. If you’re already diagnosed with this disorder, get in touch with your doctor if you experience the following:
- Your symptoms become worse, or you develop new symptoms.
- You show signs of depression, such as fatigue, having difficulty concentrating and remembering, sleep problems, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and so on.
Do you have fibromyalgia? How do you cope with your condition? Which of these essential oils do you find most effective?
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 Kravitz HM and Katz RS. (2015 Jul). Fibrofog and fibromyalgia: a narrative review and implications for clinical practice. Rheumatology International. Vol. 35, Issue 7, Pages 1115-25. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25583051
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