The body’s nerves recognize when the body is experiencing pain. Neuropathy turns this biological function on its head and damaged nerves aren’t as good at picking up on pain.
When a person has neuropathy, his or her nerves are so damaged that they send incorrect pain signals to the brain. The result is tingling, burning, sharp pain, and discomfort, usually in the hands and feet.
Alternative medicine has been expanding into the field of conventional medical practices.
One alternative treatment is aromatherapy, which is used for a variety of physical and mental conditions. Several studies point to aromatherapy’s effectiveness in relieving nerve pain.
This guide will walk readers through the process of aromatherapy as well as ways to incorporate it into daily practice. It will also outline essential oils and some of the most popular choices to use for nerve pain.
Intro to Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is just as it sounds: using fragrances from plants as a form of therapeutic treatment.
Almost everyone can relate to a specific scent and how it brings him or her back to an enjoyable time, such as his or her mother’s kitchen or a walk along the beach.
Aromatherapy mimics this feeling of happy nostalgia but in a more profound way. The inhalation of certain scents can induce a feeling of calm and relaxation, which is why many people equate aromatherapy with stress relief.
People use aromatherapy treatment to help with symptoms of depression and anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and even physical pain. Many of the scents used in aromatherapy come from essential oils, which are the compounds of certain plants.
For example, peppermint essential oil comes from the peppermint plant. The oily compounds of these healing plants and herbs offer soothing scents as well as other remedies. This is why essential oils are praised by many alternative and holistic therapists.
All About Essential Oils
Essential oils come from the leaves, roots, bark, or flowers of a plant or herb. There are certain essential oils that are better at addressing pain and discomfort. Chamomile, lavender, marjoram, peppermint, and sandalwood are some of the most commonly used oils in aromatherapy for people with nerve pain.
Chamomile comes from the plant of the same name. Chamomile tea is a common bedtime beverage because it helps to calm the senses and mind. Chamomile oil is often recommended for people struggling with depression but it can also help with nerve pain. Chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties and can induce sleep while easing muscle tension.
Lavender has been used for hundreds of years to add cleansing properties to baths. It stimulates circulation, making it a prime choice for people with neuropathy and ensuing nerve pain.
Marjoram essential oil is used to relieve stiff, achy muscles and joints. Throughout history, experts gave it to people who were experiencing physical pain or weakness. It’s no wonder that it is a popular choice for aromatherapy in people with neuropathy. It is a natural sedative so it can be a natural sleep aid for patients who are struggling to get a good night’s sleep due to nerve tingling and pain.
Most people are familiar with peppermint tea or shampoos and soaps infused with peppermint. It is one of the most soothing oils, which is why people drink peppermint tea to calm their anxiety or soothe an upset stomach. Its calming and anti-inflammatory properties make it a top pick for nerve pain. It promotes nerve relaxation as well as reduced swelling or pain in the muscles.
Sandalwood essential oil is another anti-inflammatory. It also has antifungal and astringent properties. People can use sandalwood as a sedative too, which might come in handy for neuropathy patients who are trying to deal with constant discomfort.
Other popular essential oils for nerve pain include tea tree, ginger, bergamot, geranium, holy basil, eucalyptus, rosemary, clove bud, and clary sage. All of these oils have properties that are either pain-relieving, anti-spasmodic, sedative, or nervine, meaning that they positively affect the nervous system. This is especially important since the nerves correlate to the brain’s nervous system.
Some treatments call for applying the oil directly to the affected area. In the case of people with neuropathy, this would usually be the hands and feet. Experts say that it is best to obtain an essential oil that is suitable for contact with the skin. This will prevent skin outbreaks or irritation. Even then, the best practice is to combine the essential oil with some olive or jojoba oil before applying it to the skin.
This is because essential oils are highly concentrated so it’s best not to apply them directly without another oil, referred to as the “carrier oil”. Some companies sell a blend of essential oils that are specifically for nerve pain. These mixed elixirs may contain a combination of lavender, chamomile, and other healing oils.
Another way to heal with aromatherapy is to use essential oils in a bath. There are some soaps and body washes that are made with essential oil compounds, making them soothing, cleansing, and therapeutic. People could also add the essential oils while they are drawing their baths just as they would with bubble bath soap.
Hot or Cold Compress
Another way to use essential oils is through a cold or hot compress. Soaking a cloth in water infused with a chosen oil or blend of oils makes administering the oils easier and less messy. Cold compresses are good for reducing inflammation and pain while a hot compress improves circulation.
Essential Oil Diffuser
Of course, a simple diffuser can spray the scent of the essential oil throughout the air, helping to make inhalation easy and convenient. All of these methods include the benefits of aromatherapy because the recipient will be inhaling the scents as he or she administers the oils.
When the body absorbs these oils, their different properties begin to work on the body. They seep through the tissues and into the bloodstream, effectively altering the chemistry of the body. The oils work to improve the function and abilities of different organs and body parts.
In the case of someone with nerve pain, the oils will affect the nerve’s ability to recognize and perceive pain. This means that it may stop sending false signals to the brain, reducing the feeling of pins and needles. The oils can also kickstart circulation, helping to bring oxygen and nutrients to the nerves.
Does it Actually Work?
Alternative therapies such as herbal medicine are not as popular in Western culture. While aromatherapy is not as widely accepted as conventional Western medicine, it has been used for hundreds of years.
In 2017, Hacettepe University Faculty of Nursing and Ataturk Chest Diseases and Surgery Training and Research Hospital conducted an experiment. The study included cancer patients who received the chemotherapy drug oxaliplatin and developed peripheral neuropathy.
Scientists wanted to see if aromatherapy had any effect on their pain and fatigue symptoms. The intervention group received regular aromatherapy, while the control group received routine care.
After six weeks, the intervention group reported less pain than the control group. Researchers studied these results again two weeks later and the intervention group still reported less pain than the control group.
This is just one small study but there are dozens similar to it. Moreover, aromatherapy is much more common in Eastern cultures and ancient history shows that the Egyptians, Indians, and Chinese have been using it for thousands of years.
Experts in Western or conventional medicine have not conducted enough studies to qualify aromatherapy as an adequate treatment, yet holistic therapists and herbalists have been using aromatherapy and essential oils to treat patients for years.
Not A Cure, But May Compliment Other Treatments
That being said, this therapy is not meant to replace other treatments and solutions. This means that people with nerve pain should always go to see their doctors for a proper diagnosis. There are times when nerve pain indicates an underlying problem, such as diabetes.
In these cases, it is imperative that the patient pursues proper medical action. Sometimes medications are necessary and sometimes they’re not; however, essential oils should not replace proven treatments.
In addition, essential oils are not a cure-all solution. Proper diet, exercise, and stress management are crucial. The great thing about aromatherapy is that it can help with reducing stress and fatigue as well as lessening the conditions of some physical ailments. This makes it a nice option for some people in addition to their other treatment solutions.
Aromatherapy has a long and varied history. It has been used in the Eastern world for centuries and has been slowly making its way to Western culture. Many people call aromatherapy a pseudoscience since there just isn’t enough scientific evidence to support it right now.
Studies such as the one in 2017 show that essential oils (whether diffused or applied topically) can produce effects in regards to pain relief and relaxation. For people with nerve pain, this is definitely an option that they might want to check out.
It won’t cure their nerve pain but it may decrease their symptoms and help them live lives with less pain and discomfort without resorting to surgery or prescription drugs. By combining essential oils with the right neuropathy supplements, it's possible to get relief from the pain the tingling naturally.