The Case Of Using... Lavender Oil For Back Pain

Could This Be The Solution?

Aromatherapy has long been considered a potential option for back pain relief. Among the essential oils most linked to providing this relief is lavender oil. Lavender oil is considered to offer both stress relief and work as an anti-inflammatory for muscular pain.

There is indeed some independent research that suggests lavender oil is effective.

In this article we look at the relationship between Lavender oil and back pain, demonstrate how it might work, look at the clinical data behind it and discuss how to use it correctly.

Testing The Science Behind The Oldest Medicine...

Lavender oil has long been considered something that could help with sleep by providing a heightened level of relaxation and reducing anxiety.

Then in 2012, safely inhaling lavender oil was found to have a positive impact when looking to reduce migraines.

However, it wasn’t really until 2015, when a study was released that linked lavender oil as both an analgesic and an anti-inflammatory.

Woman feeling her painful back with the question 'could lavender oil help to reduce your back pain?'

We break down the individual benefits claimed by lavender oil and see what, if any, evidence there is to back up the claims.

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How Could Lavender Oil Reduce Back Pain?

Lavender oil is a perfect example of an oil that is suggested to have almost every benefit known to be desired from insect repellent to acne reduction to anti-inflammatory pain reliever.
Without any understanding of why however, these are just baseless claims.

In the case of using lavender oil for back pain, 4 particular claims caught my eye as relevant –

  1. Improved Relaxation/ Anxiety Reduction
  2. Analgesic Properties
  3. Anti-Inflammatory Effect
  4. Improved Circulation

1. Improved Relaxation/ Anxiety Reduction…

We know that increased stress and anxiety increases muscle tension which in turn causes greater muscular pain (as does lack of sleep). Looking in depth at Lavender, it is it’s interaction with the neurotransmitter GABA that helps to calm the brain.

This in turn delivers greater sleep.

According to Woelk et al in Phytomedicine, a lavender oil preparation (silexan)

“…is as effective as lorazepam in adults with GAD” (Generalised Anxiety Disorder)

It goes on to say that of course, the lack of side effects associated with lavender oil make it a very viable alternative to benzodiazepines such as lorazepam,

“Since lavender oil showed no sedative effects in our study and has no potential for drug abuse, silexan appears to be an effective and well tolerated alternative to benzodiazepines for amelioration of generalised anxiety.”

So lavender oil gets a tick for improved relaxation.

A pack of lavender items for a relaxing spa including soaps, oils, salts, towels and lavender itself

2. Analgesic Properties…

The analgesic properties of lavender were best demonstrated in the 2015 study by Da Silva et al in which pain levels were tested using a pain model induced by formalin. In essence the test was measuring how effective lavender oil is at blocking the transmission of pain messages to your brain.

If you block the number of pain messages being transmitted, then the pain felt is reduced (and the analgesic effect therefore greater).

Without going in to too much detail, lavender oil was found to have

“consistently inhibited spontaneous nociception and presented a similar effect to that of tramadol.”

In other words, it produced a similar painkilling effect to the very popular painkiller, tramadol.

So a big tick for analgesic properties.

3. Anti-Inflammatory Effects…

Lavender oil contains a substance known as ‘beta-caryophyllene’ which is a well-known anti-inflammatory. With this in mind, it is not a surprise that the 2015 study previously mentioned also showed an anti-inflammatory effect.

If lavender oil can reduce inflammation in sore back muscles, then it can certainly help back pain, so another tick in the anti-inflammatory box.

Another tick – this time for anti-inflammatory effects.

4. Improved Circulation.

This claim was tested as far back as 2007 by Shiina et al in The International Journal of Cardiology. 

The study used non-invasive transthoracic Doppler echocardiography (TTDE) to determine that coronary circulation ‘significantly increased’ with lavender aromatherapy as opposed to a control group that did not receive it.

Heat therapy works by increasing blood supply to muscles, carrying increased healing oxygen and other nutrients.

On the basis that coronary flow is significantly improved with aromatherapy-delivered lavender oil, it is very likely to help muscles heal and deliver pain relief in much the same way.

So a final tick for improved circulation.

A cartoon bottle of lavender oil with a smiley face and powerful clinched fists indicating success in beating pain

So Does Lavender Oil Work For Back Pain?

Lavender Essential Oil can indeed help back pain.

In order to test whether this is fact or fallacy, we’ve looked at 4 distinct goals for back pain relief – increased relaxation, analgesic (painkilling) properties, anti-inflammatory effect and improved circulation.

If we could prove at least two of the above, then you could reasonably argue it is likely to have at least some positive effect on your back pain.

After all, even just a good nights’ sleep can do a lot of good for chronic back pain.

However, lavender oil actually satisfied ALL 4 goals with clinical evidence behind each.

This means, forgetting all human preconceptions about aromatherapy, there is indeed clear evidence that lavender oil could help with your back pain. 

Basic Methods To Apply Lavender Oil For Back Pain…

When using lavender oil for back pain, the most common method is as steam for aromatherapy. Your other basic options are –

  • Ingest it as a tablet
  • Inhaling it while breathing deeply
  • Add a few drops into a carrier oil, like coconut oil, and rub it into your back
  • Add it to a diffuser before sleeping
  • Have a bath and add 10-15 drops of lavender oil

Since this article is about using lavender oil for back pain, I haven’t gone in to much detail on how to use lavender oil. For a full breakdown of how/ what to use, please check out our article on ‘How To Use Lavender Oil’.

The word 'massage' written out in the middle of some lavender

Precautions With Using Lavender Oil…

A full breakdown of the precautions, side effects and contraindications of using lavender oil is available by reading our article ‘side effects of lavender oil’.

There seemed little point in pasting the same article in every study on lavender essential oil.

However, The Basic Potential Side Effects Typically Include –

  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Increased appetite
  • Skin irritation (if rubbed on as a cream or gel)

Most of these occur due to poor dosing or overuse, but can occur very occasionally due to pure bad luck (or allergic reaction).

People Who Should Not Use Lavender Oil –

  • Young children, particularly young boys (due to potential effects on hormones)
  • Women who are pregnant and breast feeding (no data exists to align safety or otherwise)
  • People having surgery. Part of Lavender’s quality is to exert a slowing effect on your central nervous system. If you take lavender before an operation, the combination may cause the nervous system to slow down too much. It’s advisable to abstain from lavender for two weeks before any scheduled surgery.
  • Lavender oil affects the body’s hormones, particularly oestrogen and testosterone.
  • Avoid lavender oil if you have a hormone-vulnerable cancer.

The Final Word –

It is clear from the data available that lavender oil and back pain have a positive relationship.

Lavender oil offers benefits for improved circulation, much fuller relaxation, considerable analgesic properties and anti-inflammatory benefits.

I have looked at each claim individually and can show conclusive evidence that lavender oil can satisfy all criteria.

This means lavender oil can indeed help if you suffer with back pain.

One of the biggest advantages is that lavender oil particularly when taken as an aromatherapy oil, has very side effects. I have covered how to use it as an aromatherapy oil here.

Like all pain medications, there is no guarantee that it will work for you – what works for one person (whatever treatment it is), is never guaranteed to help someone else.

That is as true for aromatherapy as it is for painkillers or any other treatment. Aromatherapy undoubtedly helps many people.

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References Used –

1. H Woelk , S Schläfke. (2009) A Multi-Center, Double-Blind, Randomised Study of the Lavender Oil Preparation Silexan in Comparison to Lorazepam for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Phytomedicine.
2. 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
3. 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.

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