How to Use Essential Oils for Soothing Muscle Pain and Soreness

Woman with sore muscles

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Essential oils are extracts of plant parts and are used for many physical and mental reasons, including pain relief. Although essential oils are primarily used for aromatherapy by inhaling their scents, other properties can potentially help relieve or reduce muscle soreness, making them useful for post-workout recovery.

Using essential oils to relieve muscle soreness can be accomplished by adding them to a warm bath, in conjunction with a massage, as part of a compress directly on the sore muscles or inhaling through a diffuser to aid in relaxation and relief of muscle tension.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are derived from plants and used to treat illness and enhance physical and mental health. The uses for essential oils are vast, and the historical practice of applying them as medicine goes back thousands of years.

The desired properties of essential oils are absorbed through the skin and/or the olfactory system (through inhalation).

Using Essential Oils for Muscle Pain

To use essential oils for muscle pain, you typically need to dilute them with a carrier oil, as they are highly concentrated and can irritate the skin or lungs. This oil could be any type you have at home, such as olive oil, almond oil, grapeseed oil, or jojoba oil. You can then apply them with a partner or self-massage.

You can also add a few drops of oil to bath salts or baking soda, then add that mixture into a warm bath for additional pain-relieving effects. Alternatively, apply some drops of essential oil to either a hot or cold compress.

Essential Oils to Try

Essential oils that are used for muscle soreness may be chosen for many reasons. Some are thought to aid in relaxation and relief of tension while others are thought to work directly on the sore areas to reduce inflammation. More research is necessary for many of the claims made about essential oil use, but the following oils are worth trying if not solely for their wonderful smell.

You can use a single oil, or blend some together to create a unique scent to potentially help relieve muscle soreness and inflammation.

Lavender

Lavender oil is thought to be anti-inflammatory, pain-reducing, and stress relieving. It is one of the most popular essential oils, especially as it is associated with sleep and relaxation. Research indicates that lavender inhalation can help with the perception of pain as well as induce a relaxed state that might reduce muscle tension.

Chamomile

Chamomile is another essential oil renowned for its calming effects. It might help relieve muscle aches and soreness due to anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties. Roman chamomile may work best to relax muscles, and the German chamomile variety may fight inflammation.

Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus oil creates a unique cooling effect when applied to the skin with a carrier oil. This cooling effect can help reduce the sensation of muscle soreness and pain. Eucalyptus oil may also reduce inflammation which contributes to muscle soreness.

Rosemary

Rosemary has a stimulating effect similar to eucalyptus. It is useful for treating sore muscles since it is considered to be pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory.

One study showed that rosemary oil specifically helped reduce markers of inflammation and muscle damage in women experiencing delayed-onset muscle soreness after a workout. Rosemary oil worked better in these study participants than a placebo version.

Additional Oils to Try

According to a meta-analysis on essential oils and pain, several other oils may provide relief:

  • Basil is used for alleviating tension and reducing inflammation
  • Birch is used for muscle spasms and inflammation
  • Black pepper oil is warming and has analgesic and antimicrobial properties
  • Clary sage may relax muscle spasms, ease pain, and provide warming and soothing effects.
  • Clove is used for pain relief
  • Cypress may reduce muscle spasms
  • Ginger oil is warming and soothing
  • Marjoram helps with relaxation and calming of tense sore muscles
  • Peppermint offers pain, inflammation, and muscle spasm relief

Safety Precautions

Speak to a healthcare provider if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or have a medical condition, as some essential oils are contraindicated during this time. Some oils, for instance, may induce labor, making them unsafe for pregnancy.

You should never use essential oils as a replacement for proper medical care. If you have consistent or intense pain beyond the typical type and intensity of post-workout muscle soreness, you should see a health care professional.

It's important to dilute most essential oils in a carrier oil or other substance since they can irritate the skin. Never consume essential oils as they can cause burning or other potentially dangerous side effects when ingested.

A Word From Verywell

Essential oils may be a useful addition to your post-workout recovery plan. Along with proper nutrition, rest and recovery, and other methods of relief, these oils provide potential muscle relaxing and anti-inflammatory properties. Remember to speak to your doctor if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, on medications, or if your pain goes beyond what is normal for post-workout soreness.

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4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Ali B, Al-Wabel NA, Shams S, Ahamad A, Khan SA, Anwar F. Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. Asian Pac J Trop Biomed. 2015;5(8):601-611. doi:10.1016/j.apjtb.2015.05.007

  3. Silva GL, Luft C, Lunardelli A, et al. Antioxidant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of lavender essential oilAn Acad Bras Cienc. 2015;87(2 Suppl):1397-1408. doi:10.1590/0001-3765201520150056

  4. Rezaee M, Hajiaghaee R, Azizbeigi K, et al. The effect of essential oil of rosemary on eccentric exercise-induced delayed-onset muscle soreness in non-active women. Comparative Exercise Physiology. 2020;16(2):129-136. doi:10.3920/CEP190034