Using Lavender Essential Oil For Arthritis - Is It Worth The Effort?

Why Might This Be Important?

Lavender oil is one of the most recognised essential oils – well known for (allegedly) promoting pain relief and helping people to sleep through an state of improved relaxation.

We look at the case for using lavender oil to treat the common problems associated with arthritis and what evidence there is that it might work. In the end, we actually find a case backed up with more evidence than you might expect…

The Facts, Not The Fiction Behind Lavender Oil...

An info-graphic showing the progression of arthritis from normal to be confined in a scooter in a series of stages

Essential oils have been around since medicine was invented in one form or another. With our now over-reliance on pharmaceutical compounds, it is worth remembering that many of today’s ‘wonder drugs’ are made from compounds of essential oils.

Aspirin for example, is in the same family as methyl salicylate, a major compound found in Wintergreen (an essential oil). This is so much the case that covering your body in wintergreen oil can actually lead to aspirin poisoning!

So we know any essential oil can contain up to 300 different compounds, many of which are used in modern pharmaceutical tablets. Match the right compounds and there is no reason why you can’t achieve serious symptom control naturally.

Lavender itself is an evergreen plant with a very distinctive smell. It is principally used as an ‘air enhancer’ via an electronic diffuser, but can also be applied sparingly (and preferably with a carrier oil) as a massage oil or cream.

Very often you will find lavender mixed with other essential oils in what is thought are specific combinations for stress relief, pain management etc.

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The Difficulty With Testing Lavender Oil For Arthritis…

The difficulty however with proving whether Lavender (or any oil for that matter) is effective in treating arthritic symptoms lies in the complexity facing tests.

There are numerous different oils and infinite potential mixes if you include the fact that many aromatherapists swear by creating combinations of oils.

Then you have the number of different types of arthritis – from osteoarthritis to gouty arthritis to psoriatic arthritis. Each with very different characteristics and therefore symptoms.

An elderly wife helps her arthritis-ridden husband to get up from his chair

For the purpose of this, I decided to focus on rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. While they are two very different conditions in some ways, they do share many of the same symptoms – and they are among the most popular.

I cover how they are different in this article (What Is The Difference Between Rheumatoid And Osteoarthritis).

Does Lavender Essential Oil Work For Arthritis?

With so many possibilities it should be no surprise that clinical studies in to lavender’s efficacy when treating arthritis are reasonably thin on the ground.

There are however two key trials – one on knee pain and osteoarthritis, the other measuring lavender oil in a specific mix with other oils on rheumatoid arthritis sufferers (Kim et al).

In both cases, the results were positive, with Nasiri et al in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, concluding (following the study on knee osteoarthritis)

“Aromatherapy massage with lavender essential oil was found effective in relieving pain in patients with knee osteoarthritis.”

A collection of lavender oil bottles next to some lavender flowers

Further Reasons To Use Lavender Oil For Arthritis –

For further evidence, we need to delve a little deeper and test the symptoms that we know are common to both forms of arthritis –

  • Chronic pain
  • Stiffness in joints
  • Inflammation

I appreciate there are other symptoms of course, but I am highlighting these as being generically three of the most common.

Taking Lavender oil as a potential treatment, we can find further data to support it’s use in countering at least two of these common symptoms…

Chronic Pain

In the only trial done directly between lavender oil and rheumatoid arthritis, the lavender oil again made a significant difference.

Tested on people with rheumatoid arthritis in the knee, a 5% mixture of lavender oil diluted in sweet almond oil and massaged into the knees nine times over a course of 3 weeks, showed a significant reduction in pain levels.

These results were published in Pain Management Nursing

A circle showing symbols associated with arthritis

Stiffness In Joints

This is the one area that lavender oil has no particular claim to solve. It can offer strong data to support it’s relaxing effect overall (International Journal of Cardiology), but there is no direct testing on joint mobility.

It’s also probably fair to say that other essential oils may achieve this particular goal better than lavender oil.

Inflammation

Again with inflammation, there is scientific evidence to propose that the various compounds found in lavender oil can help to seriously reduce it.

De Silva et al noted that in one test, lavender oil actually performed as equivalent to an anti-inflammatory known as dexamethasone (an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid).

If we assume the three clinical trials to be fair and unbiased, then we can accept that lavender oil can contribute better sleep, chronic pain relief and potentially act as an anti-inflammatory.

Knowing all of this it is not hard to then conclude that lavender oil can then be effective in easing the pain/ inflammation of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.

How To Apply Lavender Oil for Arthritis.

An electronic diffuser dispensing lavender oil through scent while you sleep

Given that both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis affect your joints, it is fair to assume that one of the most effective methods of administering lavender oil will be as a cream or a topical gel.

However, another highly effective (and convenient) method of taking in lavender oil is to use it in automatic diffuser.

With this you could actually go to bed and wake up feeling relatively pain free. 

You could potentially mix it with a range of other oils (the rheumatoid arthritis trial used almond oil) and massage in to your affected joints.

The Final Word –

Lavender oil is a relatively safe essential oil to use with a wide range of benefits for you as a person.

In this article we looked at it’s potential application for rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.

Despite a limited amount of directly tested data, we can still draw the reasonable conclusion that there is scientific evidence supporting Lavender oil in achieving it’s main claims – better sleep, pain relief and anti-inflammatory effects.

In achieving these goals, you could certainly expect to see improvements in your symptoms if you use lavender essential oil for arthritis. Ideally you should use it in the form of a cream or diluted massage oil.

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References Used –

1. Myung-Ja Kim, Eun-Sook Nam, Seun-In Paik. (Jan 2005). The Effects of Aromatherapy on Pain, Depression, and Life Satisfaction of Arthritis Patients. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi.
2. Ahmad Nasiri, Mohammad Azim Mahmodi, Zohre Nobakht. (Nov 2016). Effect of Aromatherapy Massage With Lavender Essential Oil on Pain in Patients With Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Complementary Therapies In Clinical Practice.
3. Zehra Gok Metin and Leyla Ozdemir. (2016). The Effects of Aromatherapy Massage and Reflexology on Pain and Fatigue in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Pain Management Nursing.
4. Yumi Shiina, Nobusada Funabashi, Kwangho Lee, Tomohiko Toyoda, Tai Sekine, Sachiko Honjo, Rei Hasegawa, Takayuki Kawata, Yu Wakatsuki, Shinichiro Hayashi, Shio Murakami, Kazuo Koike, Masao Daimon, Issei Komuro. (Sept 2008). Relaxation Effects of Lavender Aromatherapy Improve Coronary Flow Velocity Reserve in Healthy Men Evaluated by Transthoracic Doppler Echocardiography. International Journal of Cardiology.
5. Gabriela L da Silva, Carolina Luft, Adroaldo Lunardelli, Robson H Amaral, Denizar A da Silva Melo, Márcio V F Donadio, Fernanda B Nunes, Marcos S de Azambuja, João C Santana, Cristina M B Moraes, Ricardo O Mello, Eduardo Cassel, Marcos Aurélio de Almeida Pereira, Jarbas R de Oliveira. (August 2010). Antioxidant, Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Lavender Essential Oil. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências

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