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Using essential oils to recover and heal sports injuries

Words: Doryce Sher, registered Pharmacist and Aromatherapist

The use of essential oils for muscle and joint recovery has been in practice for centuries due to their anti-inflammatory and healing properties. Poultices consisting of infusions of essential oils from plants or the whole plant were applied onto a sore muscle or joint to treat pain and inflammation. Even as recently as 50 years ago, lead- and opium-soaked bandages were commonly applied to bruised and sore muscles.

How essential oils relieve symptoms

Essential oils are practical because small quantities have a beneficial effect and are easily applied when mixed with a base oil or cream. Different essential oils have their own specific effect, for example some are anti-inflammatory, others relieve pain and some promote cell regeneration. The main benefit is the localised effect of essential oils that can be targeted at a specific area of injury or pain. These oils are rapidly absorbed, fast acting and quickly metabolised, thereafter leaving no lasting or harmful side effects if used in small concentrations.

This is good news for a sportsperson who endures an injury whilst training, especially if they are trying to avoid over-the-counter pain medication with potential long-term, harmful side effects.

Key essential oils

In clinical studies (IJA. 2010. vol 7, issue 2), essential oils are shown to reduce inflammation and pain and improve circulation, which is why they have become well used by sportsmen or women. These oils can be used alone, but when combined in the correct quantities and applied correctly, the results are more noteworthy. So let's look at the key essential oils that can help with sports injuries.

• Peppermint has a cooling effect on muscles and joints. Its main constituent is menthol and this ingredient is well known to help injuries with its cooling, icy effect.
• Rosemary has a slight irritant effect. It is rubefacient, which means it stimulates circulation, thus bringing fresh blood to an area that in turn supplies fresh oxygen and removes toxins or acid build up. It warms up an area of a joint or muscle.
• Ginger has a warming effect on muscles and joints, thus helping to relax tight muscles and taught tendons.
• Lavender has many uses including improving metabolism of cell tissue and repairing and promoting cell growth. This is especially useful where tissue has been damaged and needs to recover.

These essential oils work better when combined because of their alternate actions or the conflicting effects of cooling and warming. This has a beneficial action on the rapid healing of a joint or muscle that has been under strain.

Different applications

• Massage - Essential oils can be used in a diluted form, mixed into a base or carrier oil, or a cream or gel. They can also be used diluted in warm water in which bandages are soaked and applied to an injured area. The creams, gels or oils can be massaged into the injured joint or muscle with the massage action also playing an important role in alleviating the pain.
• Spray - For very painful areas where the muscle or tendon is too sore to massage, or even for awkward areas where massage is tricky (like a knee or elbow), essential oils mixed in a water base (water with a dispersant and alcohol) can be applied via a spray application.
• Soak - Bath oils or salts containing the effective essential oils are wonderfully therapeutic as they provide absorption of the oils with the warmth increasing circulation and therefore healing.


When using essential oils, there are a few points to bear in mind:
• Combine oils for maximum effect.
• Essential oils are effective individually as well as when they are combined with other oils for a synergistic effect. The whole effect is more than the sum of its parts, therefore a mixture of more than one effect (hot and cold) is better than a single oil.

Less is better than more

It must be cautioned that less is better than more. With aromatherapy and essential oils, very little is required to have a therapeutic benefit and because of their localised action, an effect or outcome is instant. Too much essential oil can cause irritation and because the oils are directly absorbed they have a fast, effective action.

Dilute oils properly

It is advised to only use oils on the skin if they have been properly diluted (consult an aromatherapist for quantities). Moreover, if there is any adverse effect, the use should be terminated immediately.

So the next time you need to relieve a painful sports injury, try treating it the natural way with essential oils.

More information
Aromatic Apothecary has developed a range of products that help relieve pain and sports injuries. Turning to the natural world to source active ingredients, only essential oils distilled from flowers, leaves, roots and stems or seeds of many different plants, which act on the mind, body and soul, are used. To view the product range visit www.aromatic.co.za/pain-relief/

For more information and research on aromatherapy contact Doryce Sher, Co-Founder of Aromatic Apothecary on .

Doryce Sher, co-founder of Aromatic Apothecary, is one of South Africa’s leading advocates on the regulation of complementary medicine, with a particular interest in Aromatherapy. Serving on and representing various health boards in South Africa, it is her passionate aim to ensure people are aware that there are choices when it comes to health and well-being.
About aromatherapy
Aromatherapy at its core is the art and science of using essential oils extracted from aromatic plants, to improve and maintain the health and well being of the mind, body and spirit.

Aromatic Apothecary makes ready-to-use preparations. The advice offered is not meant to replace that of a professional medical consultant. Please proceed with caution when it comes to infants under six months, pregnant ladies, elderly or medically compromised persons – a doctor should be consulted when in doubt.