The Use of Aromatherapy in Pain Management
by Alana Allen, CA
Many people experience pain at different levels ranging from mild, moderate, or severe. How a person handles pain is determine on what pain relief methods they use. Pain can result from a number of different forms such as, exercise, moving furniture, sports accident, surgery, or from an acute or chronic illness. There are many different methods that can be used to alleviate pain ranging from prescribed or over the counter medication, pain relieving exercises, surgery, meditation, massage therapy, or aromatherapy. A combination of one or more of these methods can be incorporated to establish the desired result. The goal of this paper is to discuss the use of aromatherapy in pain management and whether it is successful in alleviating pain when used by itself or in conjunction with other pain relief methods. The goal is to establish that essential oils can be used to manage pain whether it is acute or chronic based on a wide variety of illnesses.
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils applied to the skin or by inhalation to promote healing of the mind, body, and spirit. Other methods of using essential oil for better health include baths and compresses. Essential oils are the essence of a plant, which has therapeutic values that are used to heal the body. These oils are aromatic fluids that are extracted from plants, trees, flowers, leaves, barks, and stems. They carry the life of the plant and are used to promote better health. Essential oils have been used since the beginning of time by the Romans, Persians, Hebrews, Greeks, and Egyptians for medical therapeutic purposes (Totilo, 2015). The tradition of using essential oils for different reasons are continued today in an effort to heal the body and mind. As modern technology improves, so does our use and understanding of essential oils. In ancient times, people burned flowers and herbs to purify the air and to promote good health. Today we diffuse essential oils in a diffuser filled with distilled water to achieve the same goals.
We will discuss the use of aromatherapy and how essential oils can be beneficial to promoting better health, how aromatherapy is used to alleviate acute and chronic pain and the effectiveness of essential oils used in conjunction with modern medicine. Pain is universal. Many people experience pain in one form or another whether it arises from a headache, backache, exercise, sports activity, post-surgery, occupationally related injury, or from a chronic illness. People of different customs, religions, and societies use a variety of pain relieving methods to alleviate their discomfort. They may choose to pray, meditate, use over the counter or prescribe medications, massage therapy, or use stress reduction exercises to eliminate pain. Whichever methods they use assists them in achieving their goals. When aromatherapy is combined with these methods, a better outcome is achieved.
The Use of Aromatherapy and How Essential Oils Can Improve Better Health
Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist, discovered the word, “Aromatherapy,” in the early 20th century. He believed that herbal medicines could be used to heal the human body from illnesses internally and externally (Lakhan et al., 2016). Many research studies claimed to believe that the use of essential oils is beneficial for psychological and physical healing. There are different classifications of aromatherapy according to a journal article by, Ali et al., “Essential Oils Used in Aromatherapy: A Systemic Review.” Cosmetic aromatherapy is used for skin and hair care. Massage aromatherapy is used to promote physical healing using a carrier oil such as sweet almond while it is massaged by hand on to the client’s body. Medical aromatherapy uses herbal medication that is massaged into the body to promote healing in patients that are clinically diagnosed with an illness. Olfactory aromatherapy deals with essential oil that are inhaled to achieve a specific purpose, whether it is to instill tranquility, relaxation, or renewal of the mind. Psycho-aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to instill a sense of peace, emotional balance, calm the nerves, and relax the mind. These different uses of aromatherapy can be beneficial in restoring emotional balance as well as alleviating physical pain without the use of harmful drugs that may cause short or long-term adverse side effects.
The article also states that various parts of a plant can be used in aromatherapy to achieve a specific purpose. For example, the green, hairy leaves of Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) belongs to the Lamiaceae botanical family. The main chemicals in this plant are geranyl, Linalool, alpha-terpineol, germacrene D, and linalyl acetate, which provides therapeutic properties for healing. These chemicals assist in alleviating female conditions relating to the uterus. It also regulates cortisol levels, menstruation, eases muscle cramps, controls the overproduction of sebum in dry and oily skin, eliminates acne, cellulite, and reduce wrinkles. Clary Sage is excellent for skin care and is used widely in the cosmetic industry.
Another essential oil that is beneficial to promoting better health is Ylang-Ylang (Cananga odorata). This is one of my favorite essential oils. Ylang-Ylang belongs to the Annonaceae family that is a native to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Madagascar. This tree bears an fantastic aromatic flower that has multiple uses. The chemical constituents are linalool, benzyl acetate, geranyl acetate, geraniol, farnesene, farnesol, beta-caryophyllene, pinene, geraniol, eugenol, and methyl chavicol. These chemicals provide therapeutic values for regulating heartbeat, restoring emotional imbalance, reducing anxiety, depression, stress, hypertension, and is known as an aphrodisiac.
The article also discusses the importance and medical benefits of essential oils. Basil (Ocimum basilicum) from the Lamiaceae family, contains antibacterial properties that fight against bacteria such as Pseudomonas fluorescens, hydrophilia, and Aeromonas. Basil essential oil can be used as an effective antibiotic for oral bacteria such as Fusobacterium nucleatum, and Streptococcus mutans.
The essential oil of Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) from the Myrtaceae family contains antifungal properties against dermatophytes and filamentous fungi. The article concludes that the entire human body can benefit from the use of aromatherapy in acute and chronic illnesses, enhance psychological well-being, and can be used as a preventative measure against diseases. Not only does essential oils aid in the removal of bacteria and viruses, but it can also alleviate a variety of acute and chronic pain-related illnesses such as headaches, migraines, backaches, arthritis, and pain resulting from trauma. Many people suffer debilitating pain such as multiple sclerosis, herniated discs, joint pain, post-surgery, or pain from a vehicle accident. Next, we will discuss how aromatherapy is used to help alleviate acute and chronic pain physically and psychologically.
How Aromatherapy Is Used to Alleviate Acute and Chronic Pain
In a journal article by Lakhan, et al., “The Effectiveness of Aromatherapy in Reducing Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” a study was performed to determine whether aromatherapy was effective in pain management. Many older adults in nursing homes experience chronic pain due to stress, an inability to cope with new living arrangements and psychological distress. As a result, they experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, gastrointestinal pain, hypertension, arthritis, headaches, backaches, insomnia, and loss of memory. Their quality of life is compromised as a result of persistent pain. A controlled study was performed on three different groups to determine if aromatherapy would have a positive effect on reducing chronic pain in the elderly. Chronic complaints consisted of psychological distress, dementia, hypertension, arthritis, heart disease, depression, and recovered injuries. Many patients were treated with prescribed pain medication and medication for depression. One group received massage therapy by hand using lavender essential oil. The second group received massage therapy by hand without essential oils. The third group received regular nursing visits with no massage therapy. The two massage groups experienced a significant decrease in pain using a combination of aromatherapy and massage therapy, or massage therapy by hand. Both groups felt the same.
In the same article, about 70-85% of the older population in the United States experience back pain at some point in their lives, and 36% experience lower back pain. One of the most common healthcare visits is due to lower back pain. I can empathize with those who suffer from this type of pain because I experience lower back pain as a result of a herniated disc. In a controlled study, the use of acupressure with lavender essential oil was given to subjects over a three-week course of eight sessions to determine whether aromatherapy would show improvements to chronic pain in the lower back. The study concluded that the treatment was successful in reducing pain.
In another trial, the article stated that a controlled study was performed on subjects with lower back pain who received a Swedish massage with ginger oil, and a control group received a traditional Thai massage with clothes on and no oil. The subjects were evaluated 15 months later to determine the effectiveness of the long-term result of aromatherapy. The study concluded that both groups experienced pain reduction. However, the group that was massaged with ginger oil had lasting results. Some pains are more severe than others, especially after a surgery.
Postoperative pain is very common after a surgical procedure. Most times, pain medication is effective in reducing or eliminating pain. However, some patients experience side effects such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or even hallucinations. This treatment can prolong inpatient hospital stay and delay the healing process. In the same article, a study was performed on patients who had a total knee replacement surgery. One group was treated with eucalyptus essential oil, and the other group was not treated with aromatherapy. The aromatherapy group had less pain and reduced blood pressure compared to the group who was not treated with the oil.
Another interesting study was performed on hospice and cancer patients. The article continues to state that a controlled study of 17 patients who received home care was diagnosed with cancer. One group was treated with lavender essential oil, and the other group was given a placebo. Both groups experience less pain, improved quality of sleep, and minimal depression. Another trial the article discussed was multiple sclerosis (MS). This is a debilitating medical condition, which can be very stressful for patients to cope with. This neurological disorder affects the central nervous system causing inflammation in the entire body. Common symptoms include exhaustion, visual difficulties, reduced bladder control, muscle cramps, and digestive disorders. Many patients complain of chronic pain that cannot easily be alleviated. Anxiety and depression are often seen in patients who are unable to cope with the pain.
A study was conducted on 50 multiple sclerosis patients suffering from MS. Each patient had aromatherapy massage over the course of four months. The study concluded that 88% of the participants generally felt better. 91% experienced improved calmness. 55% stated that they experienced improved sleep, and 78% continued the treatment after the study. Their pain medication was cut down by 7%. There was no control group in this study. Therefore, it was not possible to determine whether aromatherapy was beneficial in reducing pain, or if massage therapy alone can reduce pain. This study concluded that it is possible for aromatherapy and a pleasant aroma of essential oils along with massage therapy can play a significant role in reducing pain levels in MS patients. Aromatherapy along with massage therapy can be less expensive than conventional medication used for pain management. Aromatherapy is a safe method that can be used with pain management techniques with little or no adverse effects.
Even though there are different levels of pain, it can be managed with or without conventional pain medication depending on the type of medical condition. Next, we will discuss the effectiveness of essential oils used with medication.
The Effectiveness of Essential Oils Used with Medication
In a journal article by Tang., et al. (2014), Aromatherapy: Does it Help to Relieve Pain, Depression, Anxiety, and Stress in Community-Dwelling Older Persons? A study was conducted to determine whether aromatherapy was effective in older persons suffering from chronic pain. Emotional distress can affect familial relationships, job performance, friendships, and social interaction with others. In a four-week program, 82 patients age 65 and older who experienced chronic pain for three months participated in the study. 44 patients in the intervention group were given an aromatic air freshener, and 38 patients in the control group were given pain medication. The patients in the intervention group reported less pain and psychological distress when they used lavender and bergamot air freshener at home, as opposed to the control group whose pain level was not as low as the intervention group. The patients in the intervention group stated that the pleasant aroma of the essential oils in the air was mentally uplifting, which reduced their stress and pain levels. The study concluded that the use of prescribed medication or aromatherapy without medication both contributed to reducing pain and stress levels, however, the intervention group who used aromatherapy was more successful in experiencing less pain and psychological distress. This group continued using aromatherapy after the study was over.
In essence, pain is unavoidable and can affect a person’s physical and psychological being in a debilitating manner. It disrupts a person’s quality of life. With the proper use of aromatherapy whether it is used by itself or in conjunction with other pain-relieving methods can be useful in healing the mind, body, and uplift the spirits. In my personal opinion, I currently use more aromatherapy and massage therapy than pain medication to manage chronic pain and it works very well for me. My first preference is always to use aromatherapy and or massage therapy for better and safe healing. Aromatherapy is a growing field, and more research is needed to understand its benefits and uses better. With more education, we can incorporate the use of aromatherapy in our daily lives for optimal health.
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Tang, S., Tse, M. (2014). Aromatherapy: Does It Help to Relieve Pain, Depression, Anxiety, and Stress in Community-Dwelling Older Persons? Vol. 2014, Article ID 430195, 12 pp.