As our knowledge and interest of alternative- holistic, ancient and cross-cultural- forms of health practices increases, essential oils continue to be of growing allure. We, as a society, are moving away from more strictly traditional “Western Medicine” and towards a more holistic stance, think of the in-roads yoga and meditation have made for example, and essential oils are a vibrant aspect of that change.
So can essential oils be of help for those in chronic pain, especially those who have “run through” the vast array of help available from traditional sources but who are still living with levels of pain that are challenging?
Like other aspects of medicine the use of essential oils offers a staggering array of possible benefits for those living in chronic pain, and yes, it will take trial and error. But what a delightful process in this case! Will it be the woodsy scents of Cedarw0od that serve to stabilize your emotions (not that those living in pain would ever have issues in that respect) or floral Lavender with its refreshing and relaxing properties?
It will take time to become knowledgeable (see the classes and other resources below), but many have found essential oils to be a real treat in their pain management routine. And how often can one say that?!?
What is an essential oil?
An essential oil is a plant-based aromatic, essence, extracted using a number of different processes from a particular part of the plant including flowers, seeds, fruits, leaves, bark, resin, branches and roots. The oils formed have hundreds of organic constituents which have a vast number of medicinal and beneficial properties which promote well-being, health and healing. There exist an amazing number of essential oils, each with their own unique health benefits. Many of our modern medicines contain what we refer to as essential oils, like aspirin, cough medicine and even such applications as the drugs used for Malaria. They are now using them in experiments to address the alarming issue of antibiotic resistant forms of bacteria.
How do essential oils work?
According to the University of Minnesota essential oils “can affect the body through several systems and pathways” when we either inhale the scent of them or apply them to our skin. The most fundamental aspect of their medicinal possibilities lies with their interaction with our minds, specifically our limbic system, our emotional brain.
“The limbic system is directly connected to those parts of the brain that control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress levels, and hormone balance (Higley & Higley, 1998). This relationship helps explain why smells often trigger emotions. Knowing this, we can hypothesize how inhalation of essential oils can have some very profound physiological and psychological effects!”
How do you use essential oils?
There are 3 primary applications of essential oils, and they are inhalation, diffusion and topical. The first two deal specifically with the scent of the oils and the impact of that on the brain, our moods, stress levels, hormonal reactions, etc. The third, topical, also includes the olfactory mind-body connection for healing as well as the beneficial results of (diluted) essential oils directly upon the skin, the body’s largest organ and the body’s primary line of defense.
1. Inhalation~ to smell an oil directly. Some people keep small bottles with them, even as tiny flasks, so that they can take a deep breath as needed.
“With each inhalation of an aroma, thousands of olfactory nerves in the nostrils send messages to the brain.” ~Aura Cacia
2. Diffusion– the scents are mixed with water or ” carrier” oils and diffused into the air, again utilizing the sense of smell to stimulate, calm, arouse, soothe the mind and spirit. Diffuser methods include mists and sprays and candle and electronic diffusers and vaporizers.
3. Topical -applying and absorbing the oils into the skin. Due to their super-concentration you must use great care, it’s vitally important that they be well-diluted in carrier oils such as avocado, olive or jojoba oils (each with their own specific properties) or water. You can purchase, or make your own, massage oils, face creams, body moisturizers, scrubs, and more.
*In addition, essential oil products are regulated by the FDA as cosmetics and must conform to the rules and regulations of the United States government.
Essential Oil Resources
Two long-standing and respected essential oil distributors are Aura Cacia and Tisserand. They make great products and offer a wealth of information on their websites.
Aura Cacia is an essential resource for knowledge about the properties of and vast array of essential oils and related products as well as offering information about their usages.
The Tisserand Institute offers a lot of information about essential oils from their general properties to courses and webinars for the specific use and applications of essential oils. Although the site is heavy on product promotion it does offer much that is helpful and for-fun-and-for-free.
*One key note here is the importance of essential oil safety. They are very concentrated and therefore need always to be used sparingly and, of course, with care and attention especially when applied, in any manner, directly to the body. Most applications deal in drops, not ounces (i.e. no spoonfuls).
Do your homework before using essential oils and know their properties and actions/interactions/precautions before using any particular oil or essential oil-based product/creation.
Some general safety guidelines from Aura Cacia include: not using essential oils undiluted on the skin, keeping in mind that the absorption is increased on damaged skin and that overuse, in any respect, should be avoided-moderation is key, using photosensitizing essential oils cautiously, consulting a health practitioner before use if you are pregnant, nursing, suffering from any medical condition, or taking medication, and especially being mindful to keep essential oils away from eyes and to keep them out of reach of all children and pets.