Essential oils contain concentrated plant extracts. Aromatherapy with some essential oils may help relieve neuropathic pain.
Neuropathy is a general term for diseases that develop as a result of nerve damage. One of the most common forms of neuropathy is diabetic peripheral neuropathy, which occurs in 50% of people with diabetes.
Peripheral neuropathy typically affects a person’s hand and feet. It can cause pain, tingling sensation, and numbness. Other types of neuropathy can also develop in people with diabetes.
Research suggests that some essential oils may help reduce pain resulting from inflammation and nerve damage. However, much of the research comes from animal models and individual case studies.
In this article, we will recommend some essential oils that may relieve neuropathic pain as well as the supporting evidence.
We also describe how to use the oils, risks and considerations, other treatment methods, and causes and symptoms of neuropathy.
A 2014 study compared the effectiveness of Swedish massage using aromatic ginger oil with traditional Thai massage in 140 older adults who had chronic lower back pain.
Although both treatment methods improved the symptoms, Swedish massage with aromatic ginger oil was more effective than Thai massage in reducing pain and disability.
Ginger oil contains a compound called zingibain, which possess potent anti-inflammatory properties. Zingibain, therefore, may reduce neuropathic pain that results from inflammatory conditions.
Borneol, a compound in chamomile and lavender essential oils, may reduce pain and inflammation that relates to neuropathy.
A 2015 study found that borneol reduced pain sensitivity in mice with neuropathic pain. However, confirming the effect in humans will require further studies.
St. John’s wort oil
St. John’s wort, or Hypericum perforatum, is a traditional remedy for depression and anxiety. People also use extracts to treat burns, inflammation, and nerve pain.
According to a 2017 case report, a person with trigeminal neuralgia — a type of nerve pain that affects the face — found that a homeopathic preparation of St. John’s wort helped relieve the symptoms.
The authors of the report concluded that St. John’s wort “may be a promising therapeutic option” for treating this pain, but further research is necessary.
Inhaling lavender essential oil may help a person relax and reduce pain and anxiety.
A 2016 study looked at the effectiveness of aromatherapy during peripheral venous cannulation, which involves the insertion of a tube with a needle into a peripheral vein.
After recruiting 106 people who were due to undergo the procedure, the researchers randomly assigned the participants to receive either aromatherapy with lavender essential oil or a placebo.
Following the cannulation, those in the lavender group reported significantly less pain and anxiety than those in the placebo group.
However, a 2014 study found that lavender oil aromatherapy had no effect on reducing pain in people undergoing open-heart surgery.
Holy basil oil
Holy basil, also known as tulsi or tulasi, is an aromatic plant that grows throughout the Indian continent and Southeast Asia. Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine have long used it to treat a range of conditions, including nerve pain.
A 2015 study found that holy basil extract significantly reduced sciatic nerve pain in rats. However, confirming these findings in humans will require further research.
Peppermint oil has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. It may also help regulate the immune system and reduce muscle spasms.
The findings of a 2019 systematic review suggest that peppermint oil may help relieve gastrointestinal pain from irritable bowel syndrome. However, researchers have yet to establish whether peppermint oil can help treat nerve pain.
How to use essential oil
People either inhale essential oils or use them as a massage oil.
You can add a few drops of essential oil to a diffuser, bath water, or soft furnishings, such as pillows.
When using essential oils in a massage, you should always dilute them in a carrier oil, such as almond oil or olive oil. Gently massage the mixture into the affected area.
Risks and considerations
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) class most essential oils as cosmetic products, which means that this agency does not regulate their quality or safety. So you should only purchase essential oils from reputable manufacturers and to carefully read any labels or directions.
Aromatherapy is performed with essential oil, either in a diffuser or a massage.
Pure essentials oils are very concentrated, and some oils can be toxic, so people should not ingest them.
It is also important to dilute essential oils in a carrier oil before using them directly on the skin. Manufacturers often provide instructions on dilution and safe usage.
Essential oils can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some people, so it is advisable to perform a test before using a new oil.
To test, you should apply the diluted oil to a small area of skin, such as the back of the hand or part of the forearm. Do not use the oil if the skin becomes itchy, red, or dry.
Essential oils may interact with certain medications, such as antidepressants and stimulants. People taking prescription medications should seek advice from their doctor before using an essential oil.
Consider pets, children, and pregnant women before diffusing essential oils.
Other treatment methods for neuropathy
Medical treatment for neuropathy generally depends on treating the underlying cause. For example, good control of blood glucose levels may reduce symptoms in people with diabetic neuropathy.
Doctors may prescribe medications to relieve pain in people with neuropathy. These medicines can include:
- tramadol, codeine, and hydrocodone
- alpha-2 adrenergic agonists, including clonidine and tizanidine
- antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, imipramine, and duloxetine
- anticonvulsants, such as gabapentin and lamotrigine
- topical pain relievers, such as lidocaine patches, sprays, and ointments
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a therapy that uses electrical currents to treat pain and relieve muscle spasms.
TENS therapy is performed by placing electrodes on the affected areas of the body. These electrodes connect to a small device that delivers mild electrical current to the nerves. People can use a TENS device at home.
The authors of a 2017 study were unable to come to a definite conclusion about whether TENS can relieve neuropathic pain. They only found low quality evidence and said that they need further studies.
Some people report that TENS therapy can relieve pain, and it is a relatively safe method. When using a TENS device, it is essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Regular physical therapy can help reduce neuropathic pain. Physical therapy for neuropathy focuses on improving muscle strength, flexibility, and balance.
A specialized physical therapist or other healthcare professional will work closely with a person to develop a tailored exercise routine.
Causes and symptoms of neuropathy
There are many causes of neuropathy. Some of the causes include:
- heavy alcohol use
- exposure to toxic substances, such as lead or arsenic
- a vitamin B deficiency
- celiac disease
- rheumatoid arthritis
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
Neuropathy can cause a wide range of symptoms, depending on which nerves that condition affects.
Symptoms of neuropathy can include:
- numbness, tingling sensation, or burning sensations in the extremities, such as the hands and feet
- extreme sensitivity to touching
- muscle weakness
- difficulty walking
- muscle spasms
- digestive issues
- excessive sweating
- difficulty swallowing
Neuropathic pain is a type of pain that results from diseases that affect the nerves. Peripheral neuropathy is common in people with diabetes and can cause pain, tingling sensation, and numbness in the hands and feet.
Limited research suggests that certain essential oils may relieve certain types of pain and inflammation. However, many of these studies were in animals or did not specifically investigate the effects of essential oils on neuropathic pain.