23 February 2022 / Caitlin Devlin
The best essential oils for use in massage
Discover which essential oils can soothe, relax and relieve pain through massage.
Massage is one of the best techniques for relieving muscle pain.
Essential oils have been used in massage for many years, and a huge number of them have some benefits in this area, whether they are able to soothe inflammation, reduce pain, or even just relieve stress and tension. It would be impractical to list every essential oil that can be used effectively in massage, but a few of them stand out as top choices. Here are our favourite soothing, calming and pain-relieving oils for use in massage.
A 2017 review found that bergamot oil is anti-inflammatory and anti-convulsant. This means that it can both reduce swelling and relax constricted muscles, reducing tension and cramping and relieving pain. Bergamot oil also contains the component linalool, which can block the effects on pain receptors and inhibit the release of substance P, a compound involved in the transition of pain and other nerve impulses. Whilst bergamot’s soothing, pain-relieving properties can make it an incredibly useful massage oil, it is important to only use furocoumarin-free bergamot oil on skin, as bergamot oil that is cold-pressed may have phototoxic effects.
Warming black pepper is anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, relieving painful swelling around muscles and joints and preventing spasming muscles from causing cramps and knots. A study in 2014 found that black pepper oil can be particularly useful for those with neck pain, so you may want to use black pepper essential oil when massaging that area.
Anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic camphor can help to calm and soothe tense and swollen muscles, and its warming and cooling effects can relieve stiffness in joints. A study in 2016 found that it can be particularly useful in alleviating back pain, an area often focused on in massage.
Cassia oil is known to enhance blood circulation, warming the body. Muscle aches are often caused by weak circulation which prevents affected areas from getting enough oxygen and nutrients. The circulation-boosting effects of cassia oil coupled with its anti-inflammatory properties can help to ease pain and tension in sore muscles.
An anti-inflammatory oil, eucalyptus oil is good at soothing swollen muscles and tissues and relieving accompanying pain. A 2013 study found that eucalyptus oil’s anti-inflammatory properties are even strong enough to reduce pain and inflammation after total knee replacement surgery.
Geranium oil’s anti-inflammatory properties are impressive - a study in 2013 found that geranium oil was even more effective at combatting inflammation than some joint pain medications. Geranium oil is also known to have pain-relieving properties that help to ease discomfort. Massages are a source of relaxation, and geranium oil helps to encourage this with its stress-relieving abilities. A study in 2015 found that these abilities are so powerful that they can help pregnant women decrease their anxiety during labour.
Ginger oil contains the component zingiberene, which has powerful pain-relieving properties. It is believed to reduce the amount of prostaglandins in the body, compounds often associated with the sensation of pain. A study in 2001 found that ginger oil is particularly good at reducing inflammation-induced pain, and a further study in 2010 found that ginger oil could reduce muscle pain after exercising by 25%.
Lighting aromatic candles or diffusing relaxing oils can elevate a massage.
Lavender oil has powerful anti-inflammatory effects thanks to the activity of the component beta-caryophyllene. It is also an anticonvulsant, able to relax constricted muscles. A soothing oil, it is famous for its ability to relieve stress and anxiety, completing the massage experience.
Maritime pine oil was used by Hippocrates in Ancient Greece to soothe inflammation. It’s pretty incredible that this use has carried forward into the modern day – research from as recent as 2018 found that maritime pine oil was able to reduce muscle pain and inflammation.
Myrrh oil is another popular anti-inflammatory. It can also relieve pain, as was noted in a study in 2011. This study found that myrrh oil was actually able to interact with opioid receptors in the brain to convince it that the pain didn’t exist.
A study in 2016 tested nutmeg’s effectiveness against inflammatory joint pain and accompanying swelling. They found that the oil was very effective at relieving swelling and pain and showed significant anti-inflammatory activity. These findings supported nutmeg’s ongoing use as a home remedy for muscle pain.
Turmeric oil has soothing components which are able to block inflammatory cytokines and enzymes. A study in 2010 also found that turmeric had an anti-inflammatory effect on joints. Whilst turmeric can make a valuable addition to massage oil, it is important to use it sparingly, as turmeric oil can stain skin yellow.
Another staining oil, wintergreen is a bright red colour that can come off on skin. That said, if used sparingly and with caution, the oil can have powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is often used in the treatment of sports injuries. A study in 2014 found that wintergreen oil was able to reduce inflammation and pain in damaged tissue. These properties are often put down to the presence of methyl salicylate, an anti-inflammatory component of which wintergreen oil contains roughly 85-99%.
No matter which essential oil you choose to use in your massage oil, it is important to only use a few drops and dilute well with a carrier oil, as essential oils are potent natural products. When properly used, however, this potency can enhance massages and muscle treatments with remarkable effect.
Shop our complete essential oil range here.