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Will Herbal Oils Ease Arthritis Pain?

One reader got good results calming arthritis pain with a combination of herbal oils of lavender, mint, chamomile, rosemary, eucalyptus and birch bark.

Many people have a very difficult time managing their arthritis pain. Perhaps they take NSAID drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Although these medicines can help temporarily with pain relief, they also can have significant side effects. Other people search for alternative approaches such as foods with anti-inflammatory properties. Sometimes sufferers try herbs such as boswellia or turmeric.

Essential Oils for Arthritis Pain:

Q. I have osteoarthritis in my knee. By accident, I found that applying a product with essential oils of lavender, mint, chamomile, rosemary, eucalyptus and birch bark really eases the pain. It goes by the name Two Old Goats.

What Does the Science Say?

A. Thanks for sharing your discovery. There’s not much research in this area, but spearmint oil seems to help ease arthritis pain (Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, Feb. 2017).

Lavender Oil:

Lavender oil massage of painful joints appears useful as well (Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, Nov. 2016).

Rosemary Oil:

In addition, rosemary oil also helps to ease arthritis pain. Research in rats suggests that it works by influencing serotonin and opioid receptors (Planta Medica, April 2009).

Chamomile Oil:

A relatively recent study of chamomile oil showed that some of its components block cyclooxygenase (COX). This is the same enzyme that diclofenac and other NSAIDs inhibit (Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy, March 2016). Unlike diclofenac, chamomile extract does not appear to damage the digestive tract. In fact, a trial of topical chamomile oil demonstrated that this product reduced arthritis pain in knees better than diclofenac did (Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, Aug. 2015).

Eucalyptus Oil:

On the other hand, we haven’t seen any studies of eucalyptus oil to ease sore joints. Despite this, Vicks VapoRub, which contains eucalyptol as well as menthol and other essential oils, has long been used to alleviate muscle pain.

Chamomile Tea for Pain Relief:

We heard recently from a reader who tried an aqueous extract of chamomile (aka chamomile tea) for topical pain relief. You may find this report as interesting as we did.

Chamomile tea in a glass cup

Q. The hole in my ear lobe had grown closed, and I would like to wear earrings again. So I visited a piercer who re-opened it.
When it became uncomfortable two days later, I was advised to apply brewed chamomile tea to the area several times a day but nothing else. This offered amazing relief. What else can this brew be used for?

A. We were fascinated by your report. Chamomile tea has been used topically to treat eczema, but we did not know it could provide pain relief. A search of the medical literature revealed that chamomile has long been used to treat wounds, bruises, burns, hemorrhoids and other skin irritations (Molecular Medicine Reports, Sept. 27, 2010). Research confirms the value of its analgesic properties (Life, March 25, 2022).

Learn More:

Those who would like to know more about managing their joint pain may find our online Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis useful. Those who purchase a link to access this online resource will find a wealth of information about medications and nondrug approaches. The Guide is too long to print, but we have also made it available in book form.

In addition, you will find more data on chamomile, rosemary and lavender in our book Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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