Essential Oils for Fibromyalgia

Full article previously published in NAHA Aromatherapy Journal 2015.3
What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic medical condition that causes widespread pain throughout the body. To receive a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, a patient must show a history of widespread pain in all four quadrants of the body for a period lasting more than three months and must show a positive pain reaction in eleven out of eighteen tender points in the body when pressure is applied. Although widespread pain is the primary symptom of fibromyalgia, patients often suffer from severe fatigue, cognitive dysfunction (“brain fog”), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), insomnia, headaches and migraines, anxiety, depression, and an increased sensitivity to light, touch, and sound.

An estimated ten million Americans are currently diagnosed with fibromyalgia, with symptoms that range from tolerable for some, to debilitating for others. Fibromyalgia patients often receive their diagnosis only after all other known causes of their symptoms have been ruled out. Recent research suggests that fibromyalgia associated pain may be caused by a demyelinating process similar to chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP).  Understanding the root causes of fibromyalgia pain can lead to better symptom management and an improved quality of life for fibromyalgia patients.

Essential Oils as a Complement Tool for Pain Management

Numerous studies have been conducted that show essential oil use may reduce inflammation and pain. As fibromyalgia research progresses, our understanding of the physiological changes that occur in the body can provide insight to the most appropriate essential oil choices for the fibromyalgia client.

Blue gum eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) essential oil research has shown reduced inflammation and pain when inhaled. Participants in the study were clients who received total knee replacement surgery and also received traditional treatment therapies, in addition to essential oil inhalation therapy. Pain and inflammation in the human body have a negative effect on autonomic body functions resulting in increased blood pressure and heart rate. Researchers theorize that inhalation has a direct effect on the autonomic and sympathetic body systems by way of the olfactory system. Participants in the study that inhaled eucalyptus essential oil had reduced blood pressure, reduced heart rate, and a reduced perception of pain when compared to the control group.

Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) essential oil studies have also shown a reduction in neuropathic pain.   Researchers theorize that neuropathic pain is perpetuated by calcium and oxygen free radicals competing for dominance. As one level increases, the other level will also increase, creating a vicious cycle that causes the pain state. Their research using rat models demonstrates reduced levels of calcium and oxygen free radicals in addition to an observed reduction in pain.

Black pepper (Piper nigrum) essential oil has been shown to have strong analgesic and antiinflammatory effect. Furthermore, the study conducted by Farhana et al. showed black pepper essential oil had significant analgesic effect when compared to the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) and control groups in the study. Essential oil from Piper nigrum has the potential to be skin irritating if not well-diluted due to the hot and spicy nature of the oil.  Black pepper essential oil should be well tolerated as a topical application when diluted with a carrier oil at a one percent ratio. Proper use of black pepper essential oil at safe levels also demonstrates far fewer side effects than its pharmaceutical counterpart.

Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides) essential oil research involving mice shows reduced inflammation and strong analgesic activity in both acute and chronic cases. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) essential oil research shows reduction in free radical activity, neuropathy pain reduction, and improvement in cognitive function due to diabetes mellitus.  Significant research has been conducted on the neuroprotective effects of turmeric (Curcuma longa) essential oil that shows reduction in inflammatory response, free radical expression and improved cognitive function.  Ginger (Zingiber officinale) extract research has alsoshown improvement in both myelinated nerve fiber loss and oxidative stress in nerve lesions associated with neuropathic pain.

Essential Oils Offer Added Values for Fibromyalgia Sufferers

Fibromyalgia clients struggle with multiple issues along with the primary complaint of chronic pain. In addition to answering the primary concern of pain, an essential oil has multiple beneficial values to offer. For example, Black pepper (Piper nigrum) essential oil offers energetic qualities such as a reduction in both fatigue and depression in addition to its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.  Blue gum eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) essential oil also provides support by soothing exhaustion and aiding with concentration.

It is the energetic values of essential oils that potentially provide a greater health benefit to the fibromyalgia patient. Not all patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia display every symptom, nor do they all experience the same level of pain. An aromatherapy blend has the potential to address primary and multiple secondary complaints simultaneously.

Aromatherapy as an art, is designed to support the individual by getting to know that individual. While generalizations can be made about the benefits of a specific essential oil, it is not assumed that one particular essential oil will be a match for everyone in need of that benefit. By following current research on essential oils and chronic health problems we, as aromatherapists, can provide appropriate choices for individual clients.

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