Myth Or Miracle - Using Peppermint Oil For Back Pain?
Is It All Just One Big Marketing Ploy???
The Short Answer –
Given the amount of people who suffer with back pain it is no wonder we were asked ‘Can I use peppermint oil for back pain?’ A quick search of a few aromatherapy sites and peppermint oil is often loosely listed with pain relief.
In reality however, there is very little clinical data to support this – peppermint oil may have a number of benefits, but using peppermint oil for back pain is NOT one of them.
We elaborate on this below…
Understanding The Properties Of Peppermint Oil…
Any claim that you can use peppermint oil for back is nothing but a dangerous attempt to sell you something that is not fit for purpose.
Is there any evidence whatsoever that it could be effective?
Well, not really.
As a pain specialist, I am aware that peppermint oil is said to be 44% menthol (Ali et al), but this does not guarantee any pain relieving properties.
It is supposed that the menthol gives it a cooling effect with anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties.
And when it comes to headaches, this cooling effect certainly plays a part in symptom relief – something peppermint essential oil is renowned for.
Similarly, the antispasmodic properties have been found to work wonders with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), but not back pain.
Any assertion of it’s ability on back pain, is quite a jump from a relaxing headache reliever that might also give your energy levels a boost to being a pain reliever.
There is one trial that comments on peppermints’ ability to deliver pain relief (Journal of Pain Research). However, this shows positive pain and anxiety relief with peppermint oil while being given Intravenous Catheterization.
In such a circumstance, the ability to improve anxiety and reduce muscle spasming from the stress/ anxiety of anticipation could easily account for the improvements in pain scores.
This is a totally different environment to dealing with (most likely mechanical) back pain. There has been no specific analgesic testing, so it is really too much of a stretch to connect peppermint oil and back pain relief.
Why Do Some Connect Peppermint Oil And Back Pain Relief?
A quick google search and I find lots of sites advertising the benefits of peppermint oil for back pain. The only thing I don’t find is the evidence.
The Daily Express (an online newspaper) leads my google search.
They should at least be neutral in the debate and they do ask a ‘nutritionist’.
If I take their article as an example of many they casually list it’s benefits as including –
- Back pain could be reduced by using peppermint oil
- Peppermint oil relieves inflamed joints
- Apply two to three drops of peppermint oil directly onto the back
Where is the evidence – especially for treatment of inflamed joints?
The author (I’m not using names because this is an example of my point, not a personal criticism of his opinion) then goes on to list Peppermint oil and lavender oil as an ideal combination.
Well that may be true – because there is substantive evidence around Lavender’s effect on back pain and pain in general.
But this is no different to recommending peppermint oil followed by a session on a TENS machine (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation). We know the TENS treatment is likely to work, so whatever you do beforehand could be credited with success by association (no matter what effect it actually has).
The point is there is no clinical data cited at all – which of course there couldn’t be, because there is none available.
The Final Word –
I could go on, but I wont – the point is there are plenty of articles on and offline linking peppermint oil with back pain relief.
Many are trying to sell you a product for whatever reason you will buy it. Other’s simply follow along and make large assumptions of efficacy.
Peppermint oil can help with pain relief from headaches/ migraines, anxiety and IBS. But when it comes to peppermint oil and back pain, there is no evidence at all.
Furthermore, the different nature of back pain to the types of pain that it can help, makes it too big of a leap to suggest it might work there too. That is unless you don’t have time to do the research.
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References Used –
1. Babar Ali, Naser Ali Al-Wabel, Saiba Shams, Aftab Ahamad, Shah Alam Khan and Firoz Anwar. (August 2015). Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine.
2. Akbari F, Rezaei M, Khatony A. (August 2019). Effect Of Peppermint Essence On The Pain And Anxiety Caused By Intravenous Catheterization In Cardiac Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Pain Research.
3. www.express.co.uk. Back pain – this home remedy could reduce painful lower backache.