In 1925, the Mexican teenager who would become the artist Frida Kahlo was on board a bus blindsided by an oncoming streetcar. A guard rail punctured her abdomen, shattering her spine and dislocating her pelvis. In a biography of her life, her companion recalls that “when the ambulance from the Red Cross arrived, her screaming was louder than the siren." Kahlo would experience a lifetime of agony as a result of these injuries - pain intermittently alleviated by alcohol and opioids - but her suffering and loss was art’s gain: perhaps no other artist has better expressed the way pain can overshadow the life of the afflicted. “Pain is not part of life,” she said. “It can become life itself.”
But while pain is often a cathartic muse (“behind every beautiful thing, there's some kind of pain” is attributed to Bob Dylan), it is, in the end, still pain. In addition to the misery, it inflicts on the sufferer, it places a burden on the economy of hundreds of billions of dollars in treatments and lost productivity. A National Health Institute survey in the US found that over 10% of the population experience severe pain, with over half reporting pain in the three months before the survey.
So if you’re experiencing physical pain right now, or are in recovery – hang in there, and read on. Perhaps the world of aromatherapy can “become life”, too.
In addition to keeping your physician informed about any serious pain occurrences, you can explore aromatherapy for pain management in a variety of ways. Many essential oils, especially Lavender, Rose and Bergamot, have been shown to be efficacious in the treatment of painful conditions such as migraine, menstrual cramps, and neuropathic (nerve) pain. Essential oils can be applied to the skin in a carrier oil through massage or via roller bottle, inhaled in steam, dispersed in a diffuser, or added to bath water, and are a safe method of providing gentle pain relief without the risk of the side effects associated with some oral medication (again, be sure to discuss all oral and topical treatment concerns with your physician, and avoid applying undiluted oils to the skin).
Preparing essential oil recipes is easy: for massage, use approximately ten drops of essential oil to every tablespoon of a carrier oil such as jojoba (or coconut, for a thicker consistency). Those with sensitive skin should apply a small amount of this dilution to their inner arm, and wait 24 hours to check for any allergic reaction. For a roller bottle, fill the bottle with your carrier oils and add around 20 drops of essential oil. Use ten drops in a bowl of hot water for inhalation, and 20 drops in your bath water. Remember, these are approximations– it’s always better to start with weak dilutions, and add more essential oil as required.
Pain is stressful. So, if you can’t displace it in a painting, try our essential oil recipes for pain relief instead – and let relaxation become part of the healing process.
When headache pain strikes, Lavender essential oil is your friend. Pair it with Peppermint, inhaled from a bowl of hot water. So deceptively simple, your headache will be confused into peaceful retreat. Just inhale for ten minutes.
· 10 drops Peppermint essential oil
· 10 drops Lavender essential oil
Rose, Lavender and Clary Sage essential oils are the sisters of mercy when it comes to period cramps. Add to your carrier oil, and massage away that monthly discomfort.
· 10 drops Lavender essential oil
· 5 drops Rose essential oil
· 5 drops Clary Sage essential oil
The numbness, tingling and shooting pain associated with neuropathic conditions can be eased with this nerve-calming blend of Lavender, Geranium, Bergamot and Eucalyptus essential oils.
· 3 drops Lavender essential oil
· 3 drops Geranium essential oil
· 2 drops Bergamot essential oil
· 2 drops Eucalyptus essential oil
First, make that dental appointment (it’s never as bad as you think). In the mean time, Clove essential oil is a rare exception to the non-dilution / non-ingestion rule. You can either apply it directly to the affected tooth / gum with a cotton bud, or dilute it in olive oil if you have sensitive teeth.
· 1 teaspoon olive oil
· 5 drops Clove essential oil
Sinus pain - toothache’s evil twin - can feel like being hit in the face with a sledgehammer. An anti-inflammatory, decongestant blend of Peppermint, Lavender, Eucalyptus and Rosemary essential oils will open the airways and release some of that painful pressure.
· 7 drops Eucalyptus essential oil
· 5 drops Lavender essential oil
· 5 drops Peppermint essential oil
· 3 drops Rosemary essential oil
Aargh, six hours in front of a computer in a drafty office, and… you know the rest. Carry a tin of this analgesic blend of Devil’s Claw and Roman Chamomile essential oils (pre-mixed into coconut oil), rub into the neck, and crunch that overtime without discomfort.
· 5 drops Bitter Orange essential oil
· 5 drops Eucalyptus essential oil
· 5 drops Rosemary essential oil
· 5 drops Ylang Ylang essential oil
You’ll need an accomplice for this one. This penetrating, painkilling blend of Ginger, Lavender and Wintergreen essential oils will soothe that sore spine and help reduce back muscle inflammation.
· 8 drops Wintergreen essential oil
· 8 drops Ginger essential oil
· 4 drops Lavender essential oil
Perfect in a massage carrier oil, or handy in a coconut oil mix, this therapeutic blend of Black Cumin, Cinnamon and Frankincense essential oils packs an intense, painkilling punch.
· 9 drops Black Cumin essential oil
· 7 drops Cinnamon essential oil
· 4 drops Frankincense essential oil
Just had to do that double session in the gym, didn’t you? The three B’s can put you right – a blend of Birch, Basil and Black pepper essential oils will warm up your carrier oil (and those complaining muscles).
· 7 drops Sweet Birch essential oil
· 7 drops Black Pepper essential oil
· 6 drops Basil essential oil
As we all know, the pain of disappointment, heartbreak or bereavement can manifest physically, so comfort your bruised heart with an uplifting diffuser blend of Patchouli, Rose, Roman Chamomile and Bergamot essential oils.
· 5 drops Patchouli essential oil
· 5 drops Roman Chamomile essential oil
· 5 drops Rose essential oil
· 5 drops Bergamot essential oil
Would you like to know more about how aromatherapy can help alleviate the symptoms of chronic illness? You can listen to our podcast episode about it here.