If you've ever exercised before (even mildly), there's a good chance you've experienced some muscular pain the morning after.
For some of us, muscular aches take up a much bigger portion of our lives than a simple inconvenience - inhibiting the ability to perform daily tasks as well as preventing efficient movement.
Wherever you fall on this spectrum though, it's safe to assume that painful muscles are a grievance we'd all much rather see the back of. While over-the-counter pain medications are always a useful option, there are some all-natural ways to target these aches, too.
We're listing our top seven essential oils that relieve pain, why they work, and how to use them when your muscles and joints are feeling a little worse for wear.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are natural products, often derived from botanicals like flowers, fruits, and herbs among other plant types.
These botanicals will usually either be steam distilled or cold-pressed to release their essence, and tend to vary in colour and weight depending on the plants they've been drawn from.
Many wellness lovers will use the scents of essential oils in aromatherapy practices which involve inhaling the oils through a diffuser or topically applying them to the skin and hair.
When it comes to tackling muscular pain, a combination of essential oils and a suitable carrier oil will often be used to perform a massage or act as a soothing balm for the affected areas.
What are the best essential oils for sore muscles?
There are tons of essential oils that offer some sort of pain-relieving quality, but we've narrowed down some of our favourites for tackling muscle and joint pain in particular.
If none of these catch your fancy, you can also check out our complete list of antispasmodic essential oils that have been linked to muscular pain relief.
1. Lavender oil
Nicknamed the "mother of aromatherapy", there really isn't much that lavender oil can't do for our bodies and minds.
Pain relief is one of lavender oil's many strong benefits, with a study in 2010 showing its success against menstrual cramping where daily life performance was affected.
Lavender oil is also a known anti-convulsant and a stress reliever, meaning it can relax constricted muscles while simultaneously calming the body down. This prevents further straining and allows for better healing in these areas.
2. Cypress oil
Cypress oil may not be the most well-known scent of the bunch, but that doesn't stop it from arguably being the best essential oil for joint and muscle pain overall.
Cypress is a highly effective antispasmodic, meaning it can rapidly calm spasms in the muscles and relieve the pain or tightness associated with them. This benefit also responds well to conditions like restless leg syndrome, which cypress oil has been known to treat.
Some sources even suggest that cypress oil can be a useful remedy against carpal tunnel syndrome, decreasing fluid retention and reducing inflammation associated with the condition.
3. Eucalyptus oil
Eucalyptus oil contains a highly anti-inflammatory compound known simply as eucalyptol.
When applied to the skin, eucalyptol can help reduce swelling around muscular injuries and tackle any corresponding pain. This was proven in a 2013 study when patients who had just undergone knee surgery used eucalyptus oil as a topical remedy.
Eucalyptus oil may also be able to relax tense muscles in the face, leading to a reduction in headaches caused by stress or tiredness.
4. Peppermint oil
Like eucalyptus, peppermint oil is another refreshing remedy for muscular pain relief.
A favourite amongst athletes, this oil contains cooling and antispasmodic properties that can be attributed to two of its main constituents: limonene, a known anti-inflammatory, and menthol.
When combined, both constituents have been linked to soothing relief from inflamed joints and muscles, as research from a 1994 study demonstrated.
5. Black pepper oil
Black pepper oil has a very distinctive warming effect which makes it unique from the other essential oils on this list.
Aside from being an antispasmodic, black pepper oil can also relax tense muscles through its potent anti-inflammatory effects. These effects target sore joints and tendons to relieve stress in the area and inhibit pain.
A 2014 study found that black pepper oil was particularly effective against neck pain, with participants reporting a significant improvement in their right and left upper trapezius after topical application.
6. Ginger oil
Ginger essential oil is packed with a natural component known as zingiberene - a powerful pain reliever.
Highly anti-inflammatory, zingiberene can successfully soothe swollen muscles while continually inhabiting your body's pain response. This is due to zingiberene's ability to reduce the number of prostaglandins (the compound associated with pain) in the body.
A study in 2010 found that ginger oil could therefore reduce exercise-induced muscular pain by 25%, while a 2001 study linked the topical application of ginger to relief from osteoarthritis in the knees.
7. Marjoram oil
These qualities can once more be attributed to the oil's antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory qualities, which can soothe irritation and reduce pain when used on the impacted regions.
A study in 2016 also found that the inhalation of marjoram oil could reduce pain and calm anxieties in hospital patients. This is likely due to the oil's effects on stress and blood pressure which can impact tension in the rest of the body.
How to use essential oils for muscle pain
While there is no strict essential oil recipe for pain and inflammation, this method is extremely popular among aromatherapists and athletes alike for its effectiveness. Here's a step-by-step on how to use pain relief oils.
You will need:
- Mix your essential oils and your carrier oil in a bowl. Some popular carrier oil choices include coconut, jojoba, or grapeseed.
- If applying the mixture onto an elderly person, use a milder dilution rate of 1% as opposed to the recommended 3%. Learn more about how to dilute essential oils.
- Using your fingertips, gently rub the oil mixture onto sore areas, performing a gentle massage if you're able.
- Leave to absorb.
If topical use isn't quite for you, try adding your essential oils to a warm, relaxing bath for gentle relief.
Simply sprinkle five to eight drops of oil into running bath water and allow the scents to absorb you while you soak.
It's important to use oils like peppermint or eucalyptus sparingly in this way, however, as they are more likely to cause irritation. If you're unsure, start with a gentle oil like lavender and gradually test out some of the other oils in your collection.
Are there any risks to using essential oils for muscle pain?
The primary risk to keep in mind when using essential oils on your muscles is to ensure your oils are properly diluted.
Failing to dilute your essential oils properly - or worse, at all - can lead to harmful irritation on the skin that may result in a permanent intolerance to the oil, as well as uncomfortable rashes or redness.
For this reason, it's important to stick to a 3% dilution rate or below when combining your essential oils for topical use.
Similarly, it's a good idea to always perform a patch test on a small area of unbroken skin before using oils you've never tried before. This will flag any allergies or irritations before they become worse.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are antispasmodic essential oils?
While the term "antispasmodic" usually refers to pharmaceuticals that prevent cramping, this term can also be used for essential oils that reduce spasms in the muscles. Calming these spasms leads to relief from pain and discomfort.
Are there any natural muscle relaxers?
Peppermint essential oil is an excellent natural muscle relaxer and has been linked to the soothing of many inflammatory conditions such as fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome.
Can essential oils help with arthritis?
Certain essential oils like eucalyptus and ginger have proven very effective against the symptoms of arthritis when diluted and topically applied to the skin. Always consult with your doctor before using alternative therapies for these sorts of conditions.
Essential oils offer up a wealth of relief for our muscles when used correctly, and you can rest assured that you'll never be shy of unique scents to choose from in your aftercare routine.
With so many oils sporting anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties, your muscles and joints will thank you for the frequent therapy that will surely facilitate better movement, relaxation, and joy.