“I know now, almost definitely, that it (aromatherapy) has helped me in my quest for pain relief. I have told Dr. R at the pain clinic how pain free I was while having regular (aromatherpy) treatment” (Wilkinson 1995, as cited in Buckle 2015, p.204).
I am the lucky owner of an extraordinary book called “Clinical aromatherapy. Essential oils in healthcare.” by Jane Buckle, PhD, RN, 3rd edition published in 2015. Jane Buckle is a registered nurse with a doctoral degree and extensive research experience in the field of clinical aromatherapy. Her book is “the first fully peer-reviewed, evidence-based book on clinical aromatherapy.” (Buckle 2015). I am excited that such a book exists, because it is finally time to acknowledge the healing power of nature! With great enthousiasm and desire to help more clients, I will be presenting some of the main ideas in this book, by citing examples and clinical studies, trying to explain in an understandable language the benefits of essential oils (and their great power!). The book is written with scientific terms and it is intended for professionals, and while I enjoy reading it, here I will paraphrase most of the ideas to make them more approachable. If you still find some parts confusing, kindly comment on this article, I will be happy to clarify. Let’s begin with some encyclopedia knowledge!
The thalamus translates signals from the environment, it is related to our senses (vision, smell, hearing, taste, touch) but also emotions, memory, arousal and more. It is located in the center of the brain. (Encyclopedia Britannica). Alavi et al (1997) noted that the thalamus takes part in pain processing and interpretation, it is also part of the limbic system which analyzes smell (as cited in Buckle 2015). Therefore, we can assume that smell can indeed affect pain, as it is processed by the same brain centers.
Chronic pain affects more and more people each year. It is a worldwide and systematic issue, one of the biggest budget costs for hospitals. Canadians are spending over 6 billion dollars annualy on chronic pain management, wrote Schopflocher & Taenmzer (2011) (as cited in Buckle 2015). Chronic pain is a serious issue which can drive people to series of problems, it can decrease their work productivity, consequtively lead to financial problems and depression.
Traditional pain medications
Traditional medications for pain management include opioids (or narcotics, such as morphine) which we know lead to possible addiction and can be lethal in overdose (as morphine can depress the respiratory centers, a high dose can completely stop the breathing!). Other traditional and nonopioid drugs are Aspirin and Paracetamol (acetaminophen). They do relief the symptomps of pain, but the side effects are not to be underestimated – Brooker (2008) wrote about the toxicity of paracetamol which is high in even the low doses, 10-15 grams may cause a liver damage (as cited in Buckle 2015). Aspirin is defined as (nonsteroidal) antiinflammatory drug. Ward (1993) pointed to the side effects of Aspirin which include gastric bleeding; Kvam (1994) mentioned that the same drug can delay labor by reducing contractions (as cited in Buckle 2015). In other words, Aspirin slows down not only the pain but the childbirth process too!
Essential oils for chronic pain:
Black pepper, Chamomile, Clove bud, Frankincense, Ginger, Juniper, Lavender, Lemongrass, Marjoram, Myrrh, Peppermint, Spearmint, Rose, Rosemary, Verbena and Ylang ylang. (in bold letters are all the essential oils available currently in my practice, others can be ordered by request).
Weil (1996) places Aromatherapy in relation to the sensory system processes, a system linked to the use of endorphin (neurotransmitter associated with pleasure) (as cited in Buckle 2015). Hence aromatherapy makes us happy and we have the clinical evidence for that! “Inhaling sweet aromas is associated with increased pain tolerance” (Prescott and Wilkie 2007; as cited in Buckle 2015). Other emotions, such as fear, can increase the subjective perception of pain. Overall pain is individual and it is lived differently by all people, while aromatherapy is universally beneficial. Many components of essential oils are analgesic (meaning they relieve pain) and they are now commonly used in many pain management programs across the USA and Canada (Buckle 2015).
Studies / experiments:
- Study by Woolfson & Hewitt (1992) divided participants in 3 groups: A (massage + aromatherapy), B (massage only), C (control group, no treatment). The results stated that 90 % or group A showed reduction of 11 to 15 beats per minute – this means that 9 out of 10 people had a slower heart rate following the massage + aromatherapy treatment. Lower heart rate means that they were more relaxed! (contrary stress is associated with high blood pressure and increased heart rate). To compare – 5 to 6 people were more relaxed in the B group (only massage) and 4 out of 10 people in the control group.
The list of experiments goes on, proving the beneficial effects of essential oils. The author concludes that essential oils do not replace traditional medicine, but aromatherapy is a priceless and very efficient complementary therapy. Are you ready for your Aromatherapy session?Book an Appointment
- Alavi A., LaRiccia P, Sadek A et al. 1997. Neuroimaging of acupuncture in patients with chronic pain. J Alternat Complement Med. 3(Suppl 1):S47-S53
- Buckle J. 2015. Clinical aromatherapy. Essential oils in healthcare. Elsevier, London, UK, 3rd ed., p.195-215.
- Encyclopedia Britannica 2019, retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/science/thalamus
- Kvam D. 1994. Anti-inflammatory and anti-rheumatic drugs. In Craig C, Stitzel R (eds.), Modern Pharmacology, 4th ed. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., pp 485-500.
- Prescott J, Wilkie J. 2007. Pain tolerance selectively increased by a sweet-smelling odor. Psychol Sci. 18(4):308-11.
- Schopflocher D, Taenmzer P. 2011. The prevalence of pain in Canada. Pain Res Manag. 16(6):445-50.
- Ward, K. 1993. Care of the person with an infection. In Hinchcliff S, Norman S, Schrober J (eds.), Nursing Practice and Healthcare. London: Edward Arnold, pp 402-434.
- Weil A. 1996. Spontaneous healing. New York: Fawcett.
- Wilkinson S. 1995. Aromatherapy and massage in palliative care. Int J Palliative Nurs. 1 (1):21-30.
- Woolfson A, Hewitt D. 1992. Intensive aromacare. Int J Aromather.4(2):12-14.