Fibromyalgia and Aromatherapy

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

In 2012 I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and in 2014 I discovered essential oils. Since then I have used both conventional medicine and aromatherapy to help manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia. The following is part of my ten page research paper I did for my certification class. I wanted to share this to help other sufferers and to also shed light on aromatherapy as a possible addition to one's treatment plan.

Fibromyalgia is an illness that causes widespread chronic pain and tenderness throughout the body. Previously thought of as a musculoskeletal disorder, fibromyalgia, is often accompanied by many other bodily symptoms. Chronic fatigue, cognitive difficulties, sleep disturbances, irritable bowel syndrome, depression and anxiety are just a few of the co – symptoms associated with this disorder (Wray). A study done in 2008 showed fibromyalgia to primarily affect the Central Nervous System (Goldenberg, et. al.). This complex syndrome currently affects an estimated 10 million people of the United States population and approximately 6% of the world’s population (Nat’l Fibromyalgia Association). These numbers continue to grow as more people are diagnosed with this disorder daily.

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown. In 2018 a German research study showed many factors may actually attribute to its onset; such as genetics, stress, other illnesses like lyme disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, physical and psychological traumas, and emotional and sexual abuse. Pinpointing an exact cause proves difficult as people with fibromyalgia tend to have other underlining illnesses or diseases (InformedHealth). To date, there is no known cure for fibromyalgia. Treatments are solely focused around managing pain and the many co - symptoms utilizing both modern and alternative medicines (Nat’l Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association). One of those alternatives is aromatherapy.

What is Aromatherapy? Sometimes referred to as essential oil therapy, aromatherapy, is an alternative holistic treatment that utilizes natural plant aromas by way of essential oils, to promote health and well being of one’s body, mind and spirit (Cronkelton). Essential oils, then, are the distilled or cold pressed essence of plants that have been used for centuries leading back to before biblical times. Each essential oil offers it’s own therapeutic properties and benefits (Worwood). These therapeutic properties have been shown to help ease or even alleviate many symptoms one experiences. Essentially, essential oils contain the immune boosting, regenerative and protective properties from the plants which they were distilled from. In fact, modern medicine is modeled around the analyses of distilled essential oils, raw botanicals and their chemical constituents (Robbins).

Through aromatic use, or inhalation, of essential oils is an effective and quick way for the benefits of the oil to affect a person’s mood and body. Through inhalation, the aroma of the essential oil passes through the olfactory system to the limbic system, the area of the brain that relays and responds to emotions. The hippocampus, the hypothalamus and the amygdala are three structures within the limbic system that regulate memory, emotions, the autonomic nervous system and hormones. Lavender essential oil, for example, carries a high content of linalool, a compound from the chemical constituent monoterpenol. Linalool has restorative and sedative properties and is currently used in traditional medicine and perfumeries today for those properties as well as for Lavender’s sweet fresh floral aroma.

A random clinical trial performed in 2019 suggested that Lavender essential oil can be used by patients before surgical or dental procedures to help calm anxiousness therefore relieving the need for pharmaceuticals pre – operatively (Karan). Another study showed use of essential oils can assist in alleviating (or at the very least help manage) pain and reduce anxiety and depression symptoms (Lakhan).

The pain receptors of someone with fibromyalgia, lack proper communication along the neuro pathways to / from the brain.(Clauw, et. al.) By simply inhaling the aroma of an essential oil when feeling distressed and pained, may uplift one’s mood thereby releasing the feel good hormones as well as soothing the pain signals within the body. Applying essential oils topically not only gives you localized relief but you also get the aromatic benefits as well. For myself I have found when I can keep a positive mood I am better able to withstand the daily physical pain I experience. Using essential oils, I feel, definitely helps with that.

Each person with fibromyalgia experiences symptoms that range from moderate to severe that can fluctuate throughout any given moment or day. No one person displays the same symptoms or intensity, therefore treatment is often a very difficult task. Those with this complex disorder may benefit greatly by using essential oils to help decrease symptoms especially since aromatherapy allows for a more customize-able treatment vs the modern “one size fits all” approach. For example someone experiencing muscle pain has the option of using aromatherapy bath salts in the tub and or use those essential oils with analgesic properties with unscented lotion to apply to afflicted areas vs “popping” a pill and hoping it “hits” the intended area. Not to mention all without the added side effects that go along with many of the pharmaceuticals.

A few essential oils, from my personal experience with fibromyalgia, one may want to consider to start with are:

Peppermint, Mentha x piperita, essential oil, which has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-spasmodic, cooling and digestive therapeutic benefits. The cooling nature makes this oil very soothing when applied to the skin, helps to ease tenderness, muscle aches and pain. Aromatically, Peppermint is very uplifting and energetic. Diffusing or inhaling the aroma assists with clearing the mind for better concentration, like alleviating the fibro fog, and headaches.

Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, essential oil, in addition to having restorative and sedative properties also has therapuetic benefits of being analgesic, antiviral, anti inflammatory, central nervous system sedative, antibiotic, antispasmodic, antifungal, and antidepressent. Lavender is very calming, with it’s light fresh floral aroma, to both the mind and body. Simply inhaling the aroma may help ease the feelings of anxiousness and stress. Many people with fibromyalgia are unable to rest well at night. Lavender oil may help sufferers gain much needed restorative sleep.

Bergamot, Citrus bergamia, essential oil, has a refreshingly sweet aroma. Similar to Lavender, Bergamot is also a central nervous system sedative. Both oils help to relax the central nervous system, which is a key in decreasing the overactive pain receptors in fibromyalgia. Bergamot is also an antispasmodic helping to soothe painfully tight achy muscles and antidepressant. Bergamot essential oil makes a great alternative for someone who dislikes Lavender’s aroma preferring citrus over floral. Being a citrus oil, one must be cautious when applying topically due to it’s phototoxicity.

Basil, Ocimum basillicum ct linalol, essential oil, has a spicy yet sweet aroma that is known to be stimulating and uplifting. With therapeutic properties of analgesic, antispasmodic, nervine, immune support and antidepressant, Basil essential oil would be helpful in calming overactive nerves, gaining mental clarity and easing pain.

Marjoram, Origanum majorana, essential oil, with its sweet herbaceous aroma, helps soothe muscles and has therapeutic benefits of antispasmodic and analgesic. Marjoram essential oil is also a known central nervous system sedative.

Sweet Orange, Citrus sinensis, essential oil, is very uplifting and also calming. With therapeutic properties of antispasmodic, antidepressant, carminative and stimulant, Sweet Orange helps to lessen feelings of stress and anxiety and digestive issues. A favorite of mine is to diffuse Sweet Orange with Lavender to promote a calming and relaxing atmosphere. There are many benefits to using aromatherapy.

Essential oils help to relieve more than the intended purpose. For instance sometimes when the pain is severe enough one may also experience nausea. Peppermint, Mentha x piperita, essential oil is also known to help ease digestive issues and due to its menthol nature also acts as a stimulant helping to decrease the feelings of fatigue.

Essential oils with analgesic properties that may help relieve pain: Marjoram (Origanum majorana), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus radiata), Basil (Ocimum basillicum ct linalol), Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), Clove Bud (Eugenia caryophyllata) Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) and Ginger (Zingiber officinale).

Stress / anxiety / depression: Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia), Basil (Ocimum basillicum ct linalol), Neroli (Citrus x aurantium), Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), Rose (Rosa damascena), Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) and Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum), Citrus oils, diffusing any of these oils or a combination of may help to uplift mood

Digestive issues: Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis), Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Peppermint ( Mentha x piperita), Lemon (Citrus limon), Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), Clove (Eugenia caryophyllata), Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)

Fatigue: Any of the citrus oils, Spearmint (Mentha spicata), Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus), Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) diffusing or using these oils in a nasal inhaler may help boost energy.

Memory / concentration / brain fog: Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Lemon (Citrus limon), Basil (Ocimum basillicum ct linalol), Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)

Further medical research to the effects of aromatherapy specifically for fibromyalgia sufferers needs to be done. However, given what studies have shown so far, we know that aromatherapy through direct inhalation or by way of diffusion, stimulates the olfactory system which then affects the limbic system. The amyglada, also known as the emotional control center, is greatly affected by the aroma of essential oils (Lis-Balchin). Reducing the strong negative emotions often experienced by those with fibromyalgia is just as important as reducing the physical pain. If you were to breakdown the benefits of aromatherapy you would see that it helps to uplift ones mood, lessen stress and anxiety, reduce tension, calms the senses, enhances mental clarity and soothes pain. All of which are important factors in reducing the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms.

Although it is not a cure all for fibromyalgia, aromatherapy is a natural treatment to highly be considered, since it is very customize-able to meet an individual’s physical, emotional and mental need. If used in conjunction with modern medicine and alongside other holistic treatments, aromatherapy can be seen as a very positive alternative. Learning to properly use essential oils to ease daily symptoms as they arise, I feel, provides someone with (or even without) fibromyalgia a proactive vs reactive approach to their health and well being. Overall, aromatherapy shows promise in not only being able to help manage the negative emotions that accompany fibromyalgia disorder but also in decreasing areas of pain and ultimately the need to rely solely on pharmaceuticals.

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