Have you ever woken up with sore or stiff muscles, or found that your skin becomes swollen or warm after an injury? If so, you have likely experienced inflammation, a natural response from the immune system to protect the body and promote healing.
While most symptoms of inflammation go away in a few days, sometimes the discomfort associated with inflammation can become chronic and last for years. There is good news, though. Inflammation can be treated in a variety of ways—you can even find natural relief through products like essential oils.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is one way the immune systems tries to protect and heal the bodies after injury or infection. Essentially, inflammation is a way for the body to increase blood flow to an affected area to deliver helpful white blood cells that rid the body of foreign substances that might cause infection or rebuild damaged tissue.1
This blood flow can cause heat, redness, swelling, and sometimes pain to the area. Other symptoms include immobility to the area, fatigue, headache, fever, or even rash.
There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation occurs after an injury or illness and often has a rapid onset. Typically, someone can pinpoint the cause of the inflammation and symptoms usually subside once the injury is healed or the illness passes.2
Causes of acute inflammation include:
- Diseases like bronchitis, sinus infection, cold, or flu
- Infected ingrown toenails or hairs
- Damage to the skin, like a scratch or cut
- Intense exercise
- Physical trauma
On the other hand, chronic inflammation takes much longer to heal. This type of inflammation can last from months to years, with some experiencing symptoms throughout their whole lives. Chronic inflammation can occasionally develop from acute inflammation, but it is more often caused by autoimmune disorders.
Some causes of chronic inflammation include:
- Arthritis, particularly rheumatoid
- Active hepatitis
- Autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s disease
How To Relieve Inflammation
Several over-the-counter medications can be used to reduce inflammation or prevent it from occurring in the first place. Ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin are all steroid-free and can be used to remedy short term-inflammation.
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Acetaminophen can also be used to treat the pain associated with inflammation, though it will not reduce the inflammation itself.
The food individuals eat can lead to changes in the body. In general, healthy and whole foods can prevent inflammation.3 Nuts and fish have healthy fats that have been shown to fight inflammation. Beans and whole grains offer fiber that can reduce inflammation, and colorful fruits and vegetables offer antioxidants and vitamins to keep inflammation at bay.
On the other hand, certain foods might provoke inflammation. Avoid highly-processed foods high in trans and saturated fats as these can lead to weight gain, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar—all of which can lead to inflammation. Gluten and dairy can also cause inflammation in some individuals.
Several essential oils have shown the ability to reduce inflammation. In fact, one study found that certain essential oils reduced the expression of an inflammatory enzyme called COX-2 by 25 to 75 percent.4
Though inflammation won’t completely go away until the root of its cause is healed, essential oil use can make inflammation symptoms a lot more manageable.
Many essential oils contain powerful antioxidants that are a great defense against inflammation. Others also help to boost the immune system to fight infections more effectively, which can reduce the time the body has to spend in an inflamed state.
How To Use Essential Oils for Reducing Inflammation
There are three common ways to use essential oils for reducing inflammation: internally, aromatically, and topically.
If you plan to consume essential oils, ensure you buy products that are 100 percent pure and labeled as safe for internal use. it is also a good idea to consult with a certified aromatherapist or essential oil expert. Always dilute oils before consuming them as well. Mixing one or two drops with a cup of water or tea is easy and, depending on the oil, can make for a tasty beverage.
The most common way to use essential oils for inflammation relief is through topical application. This is simply putting essential oils on an affect area to directly reap benefits. Oils can also be applied to the bottoms of the feet at night to promote full body healing.
It is important to remember that essential oils are highly concentrated and should not be applied directly to the skin. Instead, mix a few drops of oil with a carrier oil to avoid the risk of irritation or allergic reaction.
Furthermore, the majority of essential oils should not be used on open wounds or damaged skin. Use with caution to avoid burning, irritating, or further damaging sensitive skin.
For some types of inflammation, essential oils can be used aromatically in a vaporizer, bath, room diffuser, or personal aromatherapy diffuser.
Top Essential Oils for Reducing Inflammation
Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Like many other mint oils, eucalyptus essential oil has been shown to reduce symptoms of inflammation like swelling and pain. For instance, one study found that regular aromatherapy with eucalyptus essential oil maintained healthy blood pressure and alleviated pain.6
Eucalyptus can be used to remedy physical pain due to injury, and it also reduces swelling in the sinuses, relieves headaches, and clears congestion. Additionally, eucalyptus oil can work with the immune system to fight infection. This reduces the inflammatory response and promotes faster healing.
Try using eucalyptus oil topically to treat affected areas in the case of injury. If inflammation is caused by illness, adding eucalyptus to a warm bath or rubbing it onto the bottoms of the feet can provide a range of benefits.
Frankincense Essential Oil
Frankincense has been well-known for thousands of years as being a powerful method of pain relief. In fact, using frankincense oil topically as a part of massage therapy can significantly reduce feelings of pain or discomfort.7
Furthermore, frankincense essential oil acts as an immunostimulant to boost the body’s immune response, shorten recovery times, and eliminate inflammation caused by bacteria or viruses.8
Use frankincense topically when inflammation is only present in certain areas or try aromatherapy to promote healing and relaxation for the whole body.
Lavender Essential Oil
One study examined the results of topical application of lavender essential oil on knee pain and found that the majority of people who used lavender oil experienced relief from inflammation after just one week of use.10
Like all the oils listed here, lavender may be used topically on inflamed areas. Lavender is also common in aromatherapy and can help relieve stress and anxiety while encouraging deep sleep. This can lead to better health overall and may reduce the risk of developing inflammation causing illness.
Ginger Essential Oil
Ginger offers a lot more than an added taste to baked goods or a spicy kick to many cuisines. The root, and its derived essential oil, have long been used by individuals experiencing pain and inflammation.
One study has shown that oil can significantly reduce inflammation on the joints of lab mice.11 Of course, further research is required to measure the full anti-inflammatory effects of ginger on human subjects.
In addition to using ginger topically, the root is often consumed internally to soothe upset stomach and provide full body pain relief. Try fresh ginger or add a drop of oil into some hot tea.
Rosemary Essential Oil
Rosemary is another plant commonly found in the kitchen that offers benefits beyond spicing up a dish. Rosemary essential oil is a popular choice for pain relief as it helps promote blood flow to an injured part of the body to speed up the healing process. Inflammation acts in a similar way, but a massage with rosemary typically allows you to avoid swelling and pain.
The best way to use rosemary is topical application. Massage is a particularly good way to get the blood flowing but simply putting rosemary on the skin will allow the body to absorb the powerful oil to begin the healing process.
When to See a Doctor
As mentioned above, inflammation occurs due to an illness or injury. That means if you are experiencing inflammation, especially over long periods of time, something may be wrong with your body. Over-the-counter medication, diet, and essential oils can remedy some cases of acute inflammation but might not be enough to cure every malady.
Plan to see a doctor if inflammation is persistent for several weeks, does not appear to have a clear cause, or becomes worse over time. If inflammation is due to a serious injury, like a broken bone or torn tissue, a doctor should definitely be consulted. Additionally, a doctor should be consulted if inflammation is due to a contagious illness.
For many people, inflammation is just another part of life, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with its effects. Inflammation can range from a mild nuisance to debilitating pain. Whether you experience mild inflammation or symptoms that are more severe, using essential oils can help remedy some of this discomfort.
Many of the properties of essential oils can reduce swelling, relieve pain, and promote more efficient healing of the body. In addition to topical application, portable aromatherapy diffusers can allow you can to take the benefits of essential oils with you wherever you go.