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Essential Oils

Exploring the Use of Essential Oils in Pediatric Physical Therapy

Pediatric physical therapy is a complex specialty that focuses on a wide range of physical difficulties that children face, either due to developmental or neuromuscular issues at birth, or orthopedic issues that arise as the result of an injury.

Children’s health issues can be stressful for every member of the family, and watching children struggle to either gain skills they are slow to develop or regain skills after an injury can be difficult for everyone involved.

Many physical therapists will create a play-based environment that allows children to gain balance, coordination, fine motor skills, and strength under the guise of fun—a great approach for kids who experience dread at the idea of going to the doctor’s office. 1

What Kinds of Pediatric Issues Require Physical Therapy?


Physical therapists who specialize in pediatrics will work with patients ranging from infants to adolescents, and the cases of these individuals may be quite diverse.

For some, a sports injury requires work to restore strength and range of motion. For others, the work involves strengthening muscles that are atrophied due to birth injuries in hopes of improving that child’s quality of life. Some issues children face that may require physical therapy include:

  • Limited range of motion due to injury

  • Muscles that are weakened by birth injuries, defects, or surgical interventions

  • Trouble with gross motor skills

  • Difficulty with motion caused by brain trauma or other birth injuries

  • Symptoms resulting from being on the autism spectrum

  • Genetic medical issues such as Down syndrome or muscular dystrophy, which can cause developmental delays

  • Sports-related injuries


Physical therapists will use a variety of techniques to help improve muscle tone, including manual therapy to improve mobility, activities including yoga and aquatics to gently strengthen muscles, and massage.

More intensive techniques involve casting to adjust or correct muscles or joints, gait training, which helps children learn to walk, and electrical stimulation to encourage paralyzed muscles to function more. 2

The practice is complex and requires many elements working together to provide the desired result, but muscles and joints can always benefit from essential oils as a way to augment treatment by easing stress and encouraging sleep—times when important healing occurs.

Essential Oils for Pediatric Pain and Stress Relief


Essential oils are almost always a welcome way to supplement physical therapy because they can help reduce stress and discomfort, and some of the essential oils that are most popular for adults are also the ones that are safest for children.

Pain Relief


When used responsibly with a carrier oil that can help relieve inflammation, such as avocado, flaxseed, or coconut oil, essential oils are an excellent way to enhance a physical therapy program for children and can be especially beneficial if used for massage after treatment.

Some great, child-safe essentials that offer pain relief while reducing the stress of therapy sessions include:

Lavender Essential Oil


Lavender helps relieve both inflammation and stress, making it ideal for children who are stressed out about physical therapy. Lavender can also help improve sleep, so healing occurs faster.

Lemon Balm Essential Oil


If lavender is the top essential for children, lemon balm follows close behind. It contains the anti-inflammatory compound humulene, as well as the pain reliever eugenol, along with linalool, which has been shown to relieve stress. Since eugenol also offers stress relief, this gentle essential oil is a good option for massaging sore muscles for stressed-out children.

Blue Chamomile Essential Oil


Blue chamomile contains myrcene, which works in synergy with both alpha and beta-pinene to ease stress. The trio of monoterpenes helps lower levels of cortisol, which allows serotonin and dopamine levels to increase. This essential oil also contains chamazulene, which relieves inflammation.

Marjoram Essential Oil


Marjoram essential oil contains eugenol and carvone, both of which offer pain relief.

Tangerine Essential Oil


A natural element of Ayurvedic medicine, tangerine oil contains limonene, making it an excellent option for easing some pain. The citrus scent also helps relieve stress and promote sleep.

Black Pepper Essential Oil


Capsaicin and piperine are two natural pain relievers, and pepper, when used in moderation, is child-friendly.

Frankincense Essential Oil


When used with a carrier oil, frankincense is safe for children, and according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, frankincense can ease inflammation, making it a good choice for post-therapy massage. 3

Helichrysum Essential Oil


Helichrysum offers long-lasting pain relief and is an excellent essential oil for massage because it relaxes connective tissue and muscles while relieving inflammation.

Clove Essential Oil


Clove contains eugenol, a surface pain reliever that acts similarly to lidocaine, numbing the skin’s surface and penetrating slightly beneath the skin to reach the muscles below when paired with a carrier oil. Clove has been used for centuries, but other essential oils that contain eugenol include basil, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and vanilla.

Peppermint Essential Oil


Peppermint is cooling, so when mixed with a carrier oil it can ease pain associated with inflammation.

Spearmint Essential Oil


Researchers in Sweden found that the carvone in spearmint essential oil could be as effective at easing pain as some prescription medications. The 2018 study appeared in the Nature journal Biomedical Engineering. 4

Final Thoughts


To use essential oils effectively, blend the essential oil of choice—or a few drops of a blend of oils—with coconut oil, which helps ease inflammation, to help relief post-therapy pain. Remember that it's especially important to be mindful when using essential oils on children. Always consult with your doctor, conduct a patch skin test, and check a dilution chart before using essential oils to complement your child's physical therapy treatments.

Once all of the logistics have been taken care of, however, pairing essential oils with physical therapy can provide many of the same benefits for children as it does for adults. If it is compatible with your child's treatment regimen and approved by your doctor, perhaps it's worth a shot.

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