Are there any essential oils for nerve pain? Are they effective?
Nerve pain is difficult to treat. It may take months or years before it completely goes away, depending on the underlying cause.
However, there are medications and home and self-care treatments that may help relieve the pain and prevent more serious problems.
If you’re looking for alternative remedies, here are seven essential oils for nerve pain and suggestions on how to use them.
- 1 What Is Nerve Pain?
- 2 How Do You Treat Nerve Pain?
- 3 Essential Oils and Nerve Pain
- 4 Best Essential Oils for Nerve Pain
What Is Nerve Pain?
Nerve pain or neuropathic pain is due to damaged or irritated nerves, which cause them to misfire and transmit pain signals to the brain.
People with this condition often describe the pain as burning, stabbing, sharp pricks, and/or sudden shooting sensations that feel like shocks of electricity.
Nerve pain can be self-limiting or gets better with treatment, but is generally a long-term condition. Sometimes, it could be so severe that it’s debilitating.
For some, it’s only mildly bothersome. Depending on the root cause, it might be reversible or might worsen slowly over the years.
When a disease or injury affects your sensory system—which is responsible for processing information about hearing, sight, smell, taste, touch, balance, and body orientation—your nerves in the affected area are unable to work properly.
This leads to various symptoms, including numbness, reduced sense of touch, and sometimes nerve pain.
So, why does a damaged nerve cause pain? The root cause is still unknown, but the common causes include:
A blood sugar level that’s too high for too long can damage a person’s fragile nerves. Over time, this could lead to the development of a type of nerve disorder called diabetic neuropathy.
Some diabetics with neuropathy might not have symptoms, while others might feel symptoms that depend on the affected area (feet, legs, or digestive organs). The most common symptoms are tingling sensation, numbness, burning sensation, and pain.
Shingles is an infection that affects the nerves of the skin. The same virus that causes chickenpox, which is the varicella zoster virus (VZV), also causes shingles.
After a person has had chickenpox, the virus becomes dormant and may reactivate again after a few years. This type of nerve damage is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).
The initial symptom of shingles is a burning or tingling pain. Sometimes, you might experience a one-sided itching or numbness.
After around one to five days these symptoms surface, the virus will damage the nerves of the skin, causing a red and painful rash. The pain can be too severe that even the slightest touch—like from the gentlest wind—could be unbearable.
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)
HIV is a virus that attacks a person’s natural defenses against diseases (the immune system). The virus is spread through direct contact of the body fluids of an infected person, such as blood, breast milk, semen, and secretions from the rectum (lower portion of the large intestine) and sex organs.
Despite the availability of antiretroviral medications, nerve damage is still common among HIV sufferers. 1
In this instance, nerve pain can be due to the cancer itself or cancer treatments. According to an article published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, around 90% of cancer patients who receive chemotherapy may experience peripheral neuropathy. 2 (Peripheral nerves link the spinal cord and brain to the skin, internal organs, and muscles.)
Other possible reasons are (a) the cancer tumor is pressing against the nerves, and (b) certain types of cancers may cause a deficiency in certain nutrients that help nerve function.
Examples are vehicular accidents, sports injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, and falls. Physical injuries cause nerve pain in different ways.
For instance, engaging in sports could damage and compress any of the nerves that run through your spinal cord, a condition called slipped disc or herniated disc.
This condition could cause various symptoms, including weak muscles, numbness, tingling sensations, and pain radiating down the back of the leg.
Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Alcoholic drinks can have a toxic effect on nerve tissues, and drinking too much may cause “alcoholic neuropathy.” This condition is the direct consequence of the damage done to these nerves due to chronic exposure to alcohol.
Another problem with drinking too much alcohol is it can cause nutritional deficiencies. Chronic heavy drinkers, or even regular drinkers who are not alcoholics, are generally deficient in one or more of these vitamins and minerals: folate (vitamin B9), thiamine, vitamins A and E, vitamins B6 and B12, niacin, zinc, iron, magnesium, and calcium.
These vitamins and minerals are crucial for the nerves to function properly.
Abstaining from alcohol completely might correct these nutritional deficiencies, improve your symptoms, and prevent further nerve damage. However, there’s also a possibility that the nerve damage caused by chronic alcoholism is permanent. 3
A common example of an amputation-induced pain is called phantom limb pain. Although a leg or an arm has been amputated, a person with phantom limb pain still feels painful sensations that seem to come from the missing limb. The pain usually starts after surgery.
It’s not just the arm or leg, though. A person could still experience phantom pain when other parts of the body have been removed, for instance, after a tooth extraction or breast removal surgery (mastectomy).
How Do You Treat Nerve Pain?
Nerve pain is a debilitating condition. It’s important to seek medical help first before trying home and alternative remedies. Over-the-counter painkillers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen, might help with mild or occasional pain, but they’re often not enough to ease severe nerve pain.
The first-line treatments for nerve pain include amitriptyline, duloxetine, pregabalin, and gabapentin. Other medications for relieving severe nerve pain for short periods include tramadol, capsaicin cream, and lidocaine plaster.
If you only have mild nerve pain—meaning, it doesn’t interfere with your daily activities—using home treatments might be enough to manage it.
Here are some of your options:
- Work with your doctor to keep your blood sugar under control. You can do this by eating low glycemic, fiber-rich foods, exercising regularly, staying hydrated, managing stress, implementing portion control, getting enough sleep, and taking the appropriate vitamins and minerals.
- Exercise regularly. When you exercise, your body releases natural painkillers known as endorphins. According to a research, exercise might help ease nerve pain by reducing the levels of cytokines, which are inflammation-causing substances. 4
- Try reducing your alcohol consumption. Some experts suggest limiting alcohol consumption to four drinks or less every week. 5
- Getting a massage might also offer some relief, especially for those who have sciatica. Like exercise, a massage may trigger the release of endorphins, which provide short-term pain relief.
Essential Oils and Nerve Pain
There are different ways essential oils work:
- As nervines, they support the nervous system by strengthening and toning the nerves.
- They reduce inflammation to lessen the pressure on the nerves.
- They contain painkilling substances.
There are a few good selections of essential oils that possess one or more of these qualities. In a study published in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers tested an FDA-registered homeopathic medicine called Neuragen PN®, which is for nerve pain. 6
It consists of six natural ingredients (St. John’s Wort, Wolfsbane, Club Moss, Rye ergot, Poison Ivy, and phosphorus) and five essential oils (geranium, lavender, bergamot, eucalyptus, and tea tree essential oils).
Results showed that Neuragen PN® markedly decreased the nerve pain of 56 (out of 60) subjects in as fast as 30 minutes. The researchers didn’t observe any side effects.
Best Essential Oils for Nerve Pain
Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint is a highly popular and studied essential oil because of its many uses and health benefits. For instance, it’s an effective painkiller.
A 2002 study published in The Clinical Journal of Pain involved an elderly woman (76 years old), who had postherpetic neuralgia. 7
Neuralgia is a chronic condition that causes a one-sided, severe, burning, and stabbing pain, which is due to a damaged or irritated nerve.
It could affect any part of the body, such as the face and throat. Possible risk factors for neuralgia are age, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, infections, and nerve compression. Postherpetic neuralgia is a complication of shingles.
In the study, standard medical treatments didn’t help ease the elderly woman’s nerve pain. The researchers then instructed her to apply “neat” or undiluted peppermint essential oil to her skin.
This produced an almost instant pain relief, which lasted for four to six hours after application. Within two months of follow-up, there was only one minor side effect reported.
Dilute 2 drops of peppermint essential oil and 2 drops of cypress essential oil in 2 teaspoons of carrier oil, such as almond oil and coconut oil. Massage a few drops of the mixture into the painful area of your body every 2 or 3 hours every day or as needed.
Risks and Considerations:
Peppermint essential oil is more likely safe if you use it in the recommended amounts and don’t swallow it without your doctor’s approval.
This is not for children (under the age of seven), people with health problems, and pregnant women. Use this with caution if you have abnormally high blood sugar levels.
German Chamomile Essential Oil
German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) essential oil is one of the two popular varieties of chamomile essential oil. It has a deep blue color with medium consistency.
The smell of this essential oil is often described as fruity, herb-like, sweet, and smoky. It possesses numerous healing actions. Traditionally, it was used for its anti-inflammatory, astringent, and antioxidant compounds.
The compound that give its striking deep blue color is also the same compound that’s responsible for its strong anti-inflammatory actions.
This chemical component is known as chamazulene, which is also present in Roman chamomile essential oil in smaller amounts.
With the help of this anti-inflammatory compound, German chamomile essential oil eases pain by calming the nerves. 8 The reason chamomile essential oil—whether it’s German chamomile or Roman chamomile—can effectively deliver its healing compounds is due to its ability to penetrate the deeper layers of the skin. 9
Inflammation, especially if it’s chronic, can wreak havoc inside the body. It could play a role in the development or progression of diseases, such as diabetes, heart problems (atherosclerosis), joint problems, certain cancers, and autoimmune-related diseases.
In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease that leads to chronic joint inflammation, your body’s natural defenses against infections causes nerve damage and nerve compression due to the damaged joints.
As a bonus, German chamomile essential oil is also a sedative and antidepressant. 10 It calms the mind and body when you’re depressed, anxious, or stressed out.
When your nerves are too painful and you’re unable to sleep, simply add a few drops of this essential oil in your diffuser and inhale its relaxing and sleep-inducing vapors.
For pain relief and better sleep, add 2 to 3 drops of German chamomile essential oil, lavender essential oil, and bergamot essential oil in your choice of diffuser. You can also dilute these essential oil blend in 2 teaspoons of carrier oil, and then apply to the area that’s painful.
If your nerve pain is due to arthritis, blend 3 drops of German chamomile essential oil, 2 drops of rosemary essential oil, and 2 teaspoons of almond oil. Massage this oil blend into the affected joints to ease the stiffness and pain and to improve blood flow.
Risks and Considerations:
German chamomile essential oil can cause preterm labor, so it’s best for pregnant women to avoid using it. There’s a higher chance you’ll develop an allergic reaction to this essential oil if you’re allergic to the following plants: chrysanthemum, sunflower, dandelion, daisy, aster, marigold, and chamomile. If you don’t know whether you’re allergic to German chamomile or not, perform a skin patch test.
Bergamot Essential Oil
The essential oil comes from the peel of the bergamot (Citrus bergamia) citrus fruit. Bergamot essential oil is an uplifting and relaxing essential oil that has a fresh, citrusy, spicy, and mildly floral fragrance. It helps treat nerve pain in two ways:
- It’s a painkiller. It works by stimulating the release of certain hormones in the body that make your nerves less sensitive to pain. 11 When used properly, it will help you rely less on over-the-counter painkillers, which in turn help you avoid their potentially dangerous side effects.
- Aromatherapists also recommend it for treating depression and anxiety. 12 In one study, researchers concluded that an oil blend consisting of lavender and bergamot essential oils may help with depression and anxiety in humans. 13 People who belonged in the “essential oil blend” group rated themselves as more relaxed and calmer than the control group.
Experts believe that there’s a connection between depression and chronic pain because they share the same neurotransmitters, the brain’s chemical messengers, and nerve pathways. 14
That’s why doctors often treat these two at the same time. In fact, the main medications for nerve pain—amitriptyline and duloxetine—are also used for treating depression.
To reduce nerve pain, rub 2 to 5 drops of diluted bergamot essential oil on the affected area. Make sure to use carrier oils that your skin easily absorbs, such as almond oil.
Uplift your mood and feel more relaxed whenever your nerve pain is bothering you by rubbing 2 drops of bergamot essential oil into your hands.
Then, cup your hands around your nose and mouth and breathe in deeply. Alternatively, you can add 3 to 4 drops of the essential oil into your diffuser and run it for 30 to 45 minutes.
Risks and Considerations:
Bergamot essential oil depletes potassium stores, thus people with potassium deficiency shouldn’t take it orally. When you apply this to your skin, avoid going outdoors and basking under the sun for up to 72 hours (3 days).
Bergamot essential oil contains bergamottin and bergapten, which are compounds that absorb ultraviolet rays and can cause serious sunburn.
You can increase your risk for sun damage if you’re taking photosensitizing medications, such as chlorpropamid (for diabetes), ciprofloxacin (antibiotic), and promethazine (antihistamine).
Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Most eucalyptus essential oil products on the market come from the fresh or partly dried leaves and twigs of the Eucalyptus globulus species, also called blue gum tree and fever tree.
This essential oil has a light-yellow color with watery viscosity. It has a distinct smell that’s often described as woody, medicinal, fresh, and earthy.
In folk medicine, eucalyptus and its essential oil is used for treating conditions associated with pain and inflammation. A preliminary study suggests that there’s a good reason for using eucalyptus essential oil for this purpose.
The essential oil of the three species of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus, Eucalyptus citriodora, and Eucalyptus tereticornis) showed anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving activities. 15
That’s why it’s extensively used in inflammatory conditions, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, which are diseases that damage the nerves.
As a vasodilator, eucalyptus essential oil can relax and dilate the blood vessels to increase blood flow throughout the body. Peripheral neuropathy happens when the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord (peripheral nerves) are damaged.
This can lead to restricted blood flow to the arms and legs due to inflammation. Basically, less blood flow means there are not enough oxygen and nutrients reaching the nerves, causing nerve damage.
Some people also use eucalyptus essential oil for shingles, although there are no clinical studies to back up the reported use.
The use of eucalyptus essential oil for this viral infection could be due to its anti-inflammatory, painkilling, and immune-boosting properties, which can help deal with the discomfort associated with the condition.
The simplest way to get pain relief using eucalyptus essential oil is to buy over-the-counter ointments, creams, and liquids that contain this essential oil.
You can start with 2 to 4 drops of eucalyptus essential oil diluted in 2 teaspoons of carrier oil then increase the dilution ratio as necessary. Massage it into the painful area using a circular motion.
To use for shingles, combine 10 drops of eucalyptus essential oil, 2 tablespoons of glycerin, and 4 ounces (½ cup) of warm water.
Dip a disposable cloth in the mixture, squeeze the water out, and place on the blisters. Re-apply as often as necessary. Make sure to dispose the used cloth properly to avoid the spread of infection.
Risks and Considerations:
Eucalyptus essential oil can be safe if you use it in the recommended dosages. If you plan to take it orally—with medical supervision, of course—don’t exceed 0.6 grams. 16
Pregnant women, children (under 7 years old), and people with certain medical conditions (diabetes, epilepsy, inflamed gallbladder, and digestive disorders) should avoid it.
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender essential oil is a must-have in every household because of its calming and relaxing effects. It’s great to use during times you’re stressed out, deprived of sleep, or depressed. But, studies show that it’s also great for relieving pain.
In the same study published in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, lavender essential oil was used as one of the main ingredients of an herbal medicine for nerve pain called Neuragen PN®. 17
Another study suggests that topical application of lavender essential oil could help ease inflammation and pain. 18 In fact, it has the same therapeutic effect as that of tramadol, a medicine usually recommended for severe nerve pain.
Interestingly, it might also help keep blood sugar under control, according to one study. 19 On the fifteenth day, results showed that lavender essential oil helped control diabetes complications and symptoms, such as high blood sugar levels, weight gain, and liver and kidney dysfunction.
This study used animals as test subjects, though, so it’s hard to determine how effective it is in humans. To be safe, avoid using it if you’re taking diabetes medications and without your doctor’s approval.
Lavender is often gentle enough to use directly on the skin undiluted. So, when you’re experiencing pain, just massage 2 to 3 drops of lavender essential oil into the affected area.
You can also combine it with other essential oils, such as marjoram, peppermint, black pepper, geranium, and eucalyptus.
Note: Make sure to perform a skin patch test, so you’ll know if you’re allergic to any of these essential oils. Simply apply a small amount on your inner forearm and wait for 30 minutes to 24 hours for allergic reactions.
There are two ways you can use lavender essential oil (or other essential oils) to lower your blood sugar level: diffusion or massage.
You can use a nebulizer diffuser to get the most out of your lavender essential oil. For massage therapy, use only 2% to 3% of neat lavender essential oil then mix it with any carrier oil, such as almond oil or coconut oil.
Risks and Considerations:
Like with many essential oils, it may still cause an allergic reaction in some people. Using it topically or through inhalation may also cause bad effects, such as chills, headache, vomiting, and nausea. Because of its sleep-inducing properties, avoid using lavender essential oil if you’re already taking medications for sleep disorders, depression, cough, and flu.
Lemongrass Essential Oil
Lemongrass essential oil is a common ingredient in many home cleaning, skin care, and cosmetic products. It also has many chemical compounds that contribute to its health benefits.
It’s a great remedy for inflammatory and painful health problems, including rheumatoid arthritis and nerve pain. In fact, it’s one of the top six most potent anti-inflammatory essential oils. 20
One of the chemical compounds responsible for this effect of lemongrass essential oil is limonene, which is a colorless liquid that’s present in the oil of citrus fruit peels.
Aside from treating pain and inflammation, it can also reduce high “bad” cholesterol levels. Researchers from the University of Michigan and Wayne State University evaluated information from 427 diabetics with neuropathy, which is a disorder that causes nerve damage. 21
They found out that patients who have high triglycerides, which are a kind of fat (lipid) in the blood, have a higher chance of making their neuropathy worse within twelve months.
Lemongrass essential oil might help improve your cholesterol profile, based on an animal study published in the Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research. Researchers gave their animal test subjects with high cholesterol with lemongrass oil extract. 22
Results showed that lemongrass essential oil extract was able to markedly reduce the number of triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), a.k.a. the “bad” cholesterol, in the body.
Dilute 1 to 2 drops of lemongrass essential oil in 2 teaspoons of a carrier oil you like to make a soothing massage oil. Apply the diluted oil to the areas of your body that are painful for a soothing sensation.
Some take it internally to support a healthy digestive system and balance their cholesterol levels. You may do this by adding a few drops of lemongrass essential oil in a veggie capsule or to your food or drink.
Before you take this orally, make sure to consult your doctor first.
Risks and Considerations:
Lemongrass essential oil is not for people with highly sensitive skin because of its irritating nature. To avoid sensitivity reactions to the oil, use it in small doses and dilute it in a mild carrier oil.
Pregnant women, children, and those with certain medical conditions (hypertension, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, etc.) should refrain from using it topically or internally without the recommendation of a qualified doctor.
Black Cumin Seed Oil
Black cumin (Nigella sativa), the “miracle herb,” and its essential oil are widely used in folk medicine because of their many health benefits.
The oil contains compounds, such as thymoquinone, which are known for their anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antioxidant actions.
Black cumin seed oil may possibly help with nerve pain caused by certain types of cancer and tumors. A study published in the Experimental Oncology has shown that thymoquinone and thymohydroquinone, which are active ingredients in black cumin seed oil, can reduce tumor cells in mice by up to 52%. 23
Nerve pain can be a symptom of a tumor pressing on nerves, bones, and other body organs. Sometimes, it could be due to the side effects of cancer drugs.
Since not much is known about its side effects, start with low doses first. Try combining 1 to 2 drops of black cumin seed oil and 2 teaspoons of your preferred carrier oil. Then, apply on the painful area of your body. You can also add 2 to 4 drops in your diffuser.
Risks and Considerations:
There’s insufficient clinical studies on the possible bad effects of black cumin seed oil. However, there was one case report of a patient who had large, fluid-filled skin rash after using the oil on the skin and taking it orally. 24
As always, consult your doctor before using the oil daily.
Essential oils to treat nerve pain can be effective, but if you don’t know how to use them correctly, they could be dangerous.
However, with close supervision from a qualified doctor, they would make great additions to your existing pain management plan.
Always consult a doctor who specializes in nerve pain before using over-the-counter medicines or alternative remedies, especially if:
- The pain is still there after a few days.
- It becomes worse despite treatments.
- You feel a sudden and unexplainable weakness or pain in a certain area of your body.
- There are other worrying symptoms, such as numbness.
- You lose control over your bladder and/or bowel.
Do you have nerve pain? What treatments do you find most effective in reducing the pain? Don’t forget to share your thoughts, suggestions, and stories about your nerve pain recovery. I’d love to hear them!