Recent studies corroborate the use of aromatherapy for pain relief. “Aromatherapy is effective because it works directly on the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center,” says Mehmet Oz, MD, professor of surgery at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. “This has important consequences because the thinking part of the brain can’t inhibit the effects of the scent, meaning you feel them instantaneously.” Of the many uses of aromatherapy, pain relief is only one; anxiety reduction and rejuvenation are other common objectives.
Dr. Oz, a cardiovascular surgeon, studied aromatherapy to find alternative methods to expedite recovery time and reduce anxiety in heart patients. Dr. Oz and his collaborator, clinical aromatherapist Jane Buckle, PhD, recommend using 15 drops of an essential oil, such as lavender, chamomile or eucalyptus, diluted with 1 oz. (2 Tbsp.) of a “carrier” or neutral oil, such as almond, avocado or jojoba, dabbed directly on the skin. This means you literally have scented relief on you when you need it, says Dr. Oz.
Alan Hirsch, MD, neurologist at the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, believes you don’t have to limit yourself to essential oils. Limiting the length of your exposure to certain scents, however, will ensure they remain effective. “Short-term exposure is key because people stop responding to scents after a few minutes.
To use aromatherapy for pain, relaxation, and rejuvenation, Drs. Hirsch and Oz recommend trying these scents.
Relax: vanilla. In the Columbia University Medical Center study, subjects who smelled vanilla while completing stress tests had more stable heart rates and blood pressure readings than those who took the tests in an unscented environment.
Try: Place a few drops of vanilla extract onto a handkerchief and carry it with you throughout the day.
Recharge: peppermint, jasmine, citrus. These scents make you feel more awake. “Even though these scents are pleasant, they act as mild irritants and the effect is similar to that of smelling salts,” explains Dr. Hirsch.
Try: Sprinkle a few drops of the essential oil of your choice in a candle diffuser, or dilute two drops in 1 tsp. of avocado or almond oil, then rub it onto the back of your hand.
Relieve: Green apple. “We found that the smell of green apples reduced the severity and duration of migraine headache pain and may have a similar effect on joint pain,” says Dr. Hirsch. “The scent seems to reduce muscle contractions, which are the main cause of pain in migraines.”
Try: For aromatherapy pain relief, eat a green apple for a snack or bathe with green apple bath salts.