Musculoskeletal pain may be transient, in response to physical exercise or injury, or more chronic, for example in osteoarthritis. Clinical aromatherapy can be very effective in helping to treat these problems. Essential oils and other aspects of aromatherapy have many properties that make them useful in reducing discomfort caused by the following conditions:

  • acute sprains and injuries, bruising
  • osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis
  • muscular strain, sore and overworked muscles
  • neuralgia, tendonitis, RSI, fibromyalgia
  • tension headaches

To determine the most appropriate aromatic remedy an aromatherapist will look at various factors including the cause of pain, type of pain and how it affects daily activities e.g. sleep, mobility and mood. We also consider the most appropriate mode of application for each client. For example, it may be more effective to treat an acute injury with a compress rather than massage.

Selection of essential oils may include those with the following properties:

  • analgesic & anti-inflammatory- to reduce pain, minimise inflammation and improve joint mobility
  • antioxidant – to reduce risk of further damage
  • antispasmodic – to reduce muscular spasm
  • diuretic – to reduce swelling
  • rubefacient – to increase local blood circulation
  • antidepressant – to improve low mood often associated with chronic pain

There is increasing research on the effects of different essential oils and/or their constituents on pain, inflammation and mood. Essential oils which have shown evidence of analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity include Clove Bud, Peppermint, Sweet Marjoram, Geranium, Rosemary, Eucalyptus varieties and Lavender. Jane Buckle, well known aromatherapist, nurse and researcher, quotes many small U.S. studies which show positive results for using essential oils to reduce chronic pain and increase mobility in patients with arthritis. Essential oils used include Ginger, German chamomile and Sweet Marjoram. Another study on male teenagers training for athletics showed the aromatherapy group had a greater reduction in pain post training compared with the control group.

Understandably, chronic pain can have a negative effect on our mood. Essential oils can be so useful in helping to balance emotions of sadness, frustration and anger. A Korean study looking at the effects of aromatherapy on pain, depression and life satisfaction of arthritis patients found that “Aromatherapy significantly decreased both the pain score and the depression score of the experimental group compared with the control group.”

In my own personal and clinical experience, I have found the following essential oils very beneficial in reducing discomfort associated with muscular and joint problems: Sweet Marjoram, Kunzea, Ginger (especially the CO2 extract), Eucalyptus (radiata & citriodora) and Peppermint.

Infused oils are also an excellent addition to therapeutic blends to enhance effectiveness. For example we can include arnica oil for bruising, hypericum for inflammation and calendula for tissue healing.

It is advisable to see a qualified aromatherapist as a full consultation will determine the most appropriate aromatic blend for your needs. A personalised therapeutic blend can be used in conjunction with massage, if suitable, or as a home remedy.


Leem HL et al. 2011. Antioxidant and Antiinflammatory Activities of Eugenol and it’s derivatives from Clove. Journal of the Korean Society of Food Science and Nutrition

Guimaraes, A.G., et al. 2013. Monoterpenes with Analgesic Activity – A Systematic Review. Phytotherapy Research. 27 (1).

Kim M.J. et al. 2005.The effects of aromatherapy on pain, depression, and life satisfaction of arthritis patients. Journal of Korean Academy of nursing. 35(1).