Aromatic Plants and Chronic Pain: Make the Switch!

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Why Do We Need Alternative Pain Management Treatments?

Research from 2016 found that nearly 1 in 5 Americans have experienced chronic pain, defined as pain consistent for 6 months or more. Chronic pain can be debilitating and severely reduce a person’s quality of life, restrict mobility, and interfere with daily activities. Severe chronic back pain can even prevent you from doing simple tasks such as bending over to pick up a dropped pen! 

Research has also shown a development of common comorbid conditions with chronic pain, such as anxiety and depression. Opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone may be prescribed to treat severe chronic pain; however, the significant pain relief provided is accompanied by highly addictive properties which have promoted the United States Opioid Epidemic. Overtime, the body develops dependence and tolerance to these powerful drugs, leading to a decrease in efficacy and increase in likelihood of dependence. These drugs can be damaging and toxic in high dosages. With the rising awareness of the opioid crisis, many physicians are becoming more strict with opioid prescriptions and are instead implementing alternative methods into patient care plans. One such method is aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy as an Alternative Pain Management Treatment

Aromatherapy may play a significant role in the treatment of aromatherapy of chronic pain. Aromatherapy involves topical application, inhalation, or consumption of fragrant plant extracts. Although many plants used in aromatherapy for pain can have a delightful and soothing scent, it is actually the bioactive compounds like antioxidants, thymol, and carvacrol within the plants that are of interest. These are absorbed by the body and have potential to partially alleviate chronic pain at the systemic level. 

According to the Cleveland Health Clinic, plants used in aromatherapy for their chemical properties include, but are not limited to lavender, cinnamon, ginger, bergamot, and lemongrass. Once extracted and concentrated, these aromatherapeutic chemicals may be inhaled from a cloth or diffuser, applied onto skin or fabric in conjunction with a carrier oil, and even massaged onto painful areas. All of these methods ensure that the active ingredient will be absorbed into the bloodstream either through olfactory passages or the skin. Aromatherapy is a safer and more easily accessible method to assist in managing pain. Oils, creams, plants and candles are nearly always far safer than any opioid, and can be purchased at most health stores, pharmacies, and herbal shops. 

The Efficacy of Aromatherapy

How effective can aromatherapy be at reducing chronic pain? The research data collected by numerous studies suggests a high success rate of aromatherapy when reducing chronic pain. This is especially the case when it is coupled with traditional medical treatments, such as massage therapy.  

  • A 2014 study by Sritoomma et al. compared the analgesic effects of massage therapy of the back with ginger oil against massage therapy with no oil. Results showed that after 15 months of treatment, both groups experienced greater mobility and decreased pain; however, the ginger oil group experienced significantly better outcomes in long-term pain reduction.  
  • A 2008 experimental study on knee pain performed by Yip et al. had similar methodology and findings. Researchers used weekly follow-ups in double-blind conditions to compare ratings of knee-pain amongst three treatment groups: massages with ginger oil, massages with no oil, and traditional treatment. After four weeks, the group receiving ginger oil massages reported significantly lowered knee pain ratings and increased function as compared to the other two groups. thus supporting ginger oil’s utility in treating knee pain. 

Results of studies such as these continue to support ginger oil’s efficacy at relieving chronic musculoskeletal pain. More data continues to come out in support of other aromatherapeutic agents. 

Could Aromatherapy Be Right for You?

Based on research done on aromatherapy thus far, we can clearly see its remarkable efficacy in alleviating chronic pain of the knees, the back, and across the body. This is especially the case when coupled with traditional medical treatments, such as massages. It is important to note that many plant extracts have not yet been sufficiently tested to draw definitive conclusions. Regardless, many have found success with aromatherapy at reducing their chronic pain stemming from various sources. This is important in the context of physicians needing alternative treatments to replace long-term opioid usage. Aromatherapy is also very safe and possesses minimal risk when consulting specialists on the matter. 

If you have chronic pain, find out from your provider if supplementing traditional treatment with aromatherapy is a viable option. Worst case scenario, your room smells like lavender.

Written By: Matthew Chaudhry

Edited By: Camden Rowe

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.