Aromatherapy/Essential Oils for Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a medical condition characterized by muscle pain and the presence of “tender points.” Tender points (points in the body that are especially painful when touched) may occur in the arms, legs, neck, shoulders, and back, and are detected at specific locations for the diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is known by a number of other names, including chronic muscle pain syndrome, fibrositis, psychogenic rheumatism, and tension myalgia. People with fibromyalgia often experience other symptoms, including fatigue, insomnia, headaches, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, and a heightened sensitivity to light, sound, and odors. An estimated ten million Americans (likely women) suffer from fibromyalgia. In addition to conventional medical treatments, fibromyalgia may also respond to a number of alternative and complementary medical procedures, including the use of aromatherapy with essential oils.

How is Aromatherapy with Essential Oils Used to Treat Fibromyalgia?

Aromatherapy is used to treat fibromyalgia because of the ability of essential oils to bring about desired changes in one’s physical and mental states. Specifically, some essential oils appear to increase one’s tolerance of pain, improve one’s general overall emotional state, improve circulation, and, in general, elevate one’s mood. These changes appear to relieve the pain, sensitivity to outside stimuli, and fatigue that are associated with fibromyalgia.

The essential oils used in treating fibromyalgia are chosen because they have one or more of these properties. For example, some of the essential oils used to relieve sore muscles and joints include black pepper (Piper nigrum), eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), juniper (Juniperus communis), and peppermint (Mentha piperita). Essential oils helpful in calming one down include chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), jasmine (Jasminum officinalis), and lavender (Lavendula officinalis). Essential oils used to increase one’s energy are geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), and lemon (Citrus limon).

Other essential oils recommended for the treatment of fibromyalgia with aromatherapy include:

  • black cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
  • cayenne (Capsicum frutescens)
  • clove (Eugenia aromatica)
  • comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
  • feverfew (Tanacetum parthenum)
  • ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • helichrysm (Helichrysum angustifolia)
  • spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia)
  • thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
  • turmeric (Curcuma longa)

An aromatherapy practitioner may recommend a combination of essential oils that work together to produce a better result than would any one oil by itself. One combination that has been suggested consists of one drop of attar of rose oil (Rosa damascena), three drops of frankincense (Boswellia carterii), three drops of sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana), and six drops of petitgrain (Citrus aurantium) in a quarter cup of jojoba oil. The jojoba oil in this mixture is a carrier oil, a neutral oil with no medical benefits of its own used to dissolve and dilute the essential oils.

The essential oils used to treat fibromyalgia can be administered in many different ways. Some people may place a drop or two of the oil on their skin and gently inhale the fumes of the oil. Or the oil can be absorbed on a cotton swab or piece of cloth and inhaled. Essential oils can also be added to a warm footbath or a full bath. Heat from the bath water causes the essential oil to evaporate and be inhaled. Some patients have found it helpful to immerse themselves in a full body wrap consisting of a cloth soaked in warm water to which a few drops of essential oil have been added.

What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is a system for treating physical, mental, and emotional problems by using essential oils. Essential oils are oily products obtained from plants by the process of steam extraction. In stream extraction, some part of a plant—flowers, stems, leaves, roots, or buds, for example—is exposed to a stream of steam. The steam dissolves oils contained within the plant parts, forming a mixture of water and oil. When the steam cools, the oils condense and can be separated from the water. Practitioners of alternative medicine believe that essential oils have a number of healing properties that can be used to treat a wide variety of disorders ranging from skin problems to cancer. The choice as to which essential oil to use for any given health problem is determined by hundreds or thousands of years of experience in using the well over 100 essential oils known to aromatherapists today.

What Causes Fibromyalgia?

While the medical community still regards Fibromyalgia a mystery, most researchers agree that it is a disorder of central processing with neuroendocrine/neurotransmitter dysregulation. The individual experiences pain amplification due to abnormal sensory processing in the central nervous system. Scientific studies show physiological abnormalities in patients, including increased levels of substance P in the spinal cord, low levels of blood flow to the thalamus region of the brain, HPA axis hypofunction, low levels of serotonin and tryptophan, and abnormalities in cytokine function.

A number of other possible causes of fibromyalgia have been suggested:

  • Heredity: People with fibromyalgia sometimes have relatives who also have the same condition;
  • Trauma: An injury to the body, especially to the upper part of the spine, may bring on a bout of fibromyalgia. Even less serious injuries, if repeated often enough, may cause fibromyalgia to develop
  • Infection: Some researchers believe that fibromyalgia is caused by a virus that has not yet been identified, or by some other type of microorganism
  • Changes in sleep patterns: Just as fibromyalgia may cause insomnia, so may changes in one’s sleep patterns cause the disorder itself
  • Changes in one’s body chemistry: Disorders of the nervous or muscular system may result in fibromyalgia

Additional Resources

AromaWeb: “What Is Aromatherapy?

National Fibromyalgia Association: What is Fibromyalgia?

Jenkins, Nicola. Aromatherapy in essence. London: Hodder Arnold, 2006.

Loughran, Joni Keim, and Ruah Bull. Aromatherapy and Subtle Energy Techniques: Compassionate Healing with Essential Oils. Berkeley, CA.: Frog, Ltd., 2000.

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