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Aromatherapy: Is There Hard Science Behind its Pain-Relief Properties?

Written By Editor on 10/16/22 | 10/16/22

When people think of aromatherapy, they tend to conjure images of stylish room diffusers and tiny bottles of natural extracts. Contrary to popular misconception, there’s much more to aromatherapy than pleasant smells and fragrance machines; it’s often used for its calming effects, but it can also be used to minimize chronic and intermittent pain disorders.

The concept of aromatherapy isn’t centered around any one specific application, but rather a range of alternative or traditional therapies that rely on aromatic plant compounds (like essential oils and hydrosols) for their therapeutic properties. In this post, we'll discuss what exactly aromatherapy is, the research around its analgesic effects, and some of the different ways to benefit from it.

What is Aromatherapy?

The use of plant compounds for their healing properties is a practice going back thousands of years, but the term "aromatherapy" was coined by René-Maurice Gattefossé in the 1910’s. He was a perfumer and biochemist who wrote the first published book describing an alternative form of treatment using essential oils. 

Essential oils from plants (ranging from herbs to flowers and trees) are among the most popular compounds used for aromatherapy, as they've been found to improve physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are traditionally used for a variety of therapeutic purposes, including ceremonial to medicinal use cases. The primary active components in essential oils are naturally occurring aromatic hydrocarbons known as terpenes, which are responsible for the scent and flavor profiles of practically all plant life. Moreover, many of the therapeutic properties associated with different plants and their essential oils can be attributed to their varying concentrations of terpenes.

It’s important to note that the quality of an essential oil formulation (in terms of its terpene content) is just as important as the equipment used in an aromatherapy session. This is why businesses choose True Blue and similarly reputable companies who reliably provide pure, food-grade terpenes with no additives or diluents.

Aromatherapy is often used in conjunction with other complementary treatments including acupuncture and massage. It’s often considered both a science and an art, because it requires an intimate knowledge of the therapeutic aspects of numerous plant extracts, along with the ability to utilize them in effective and complementary courses of natural therapy.

How Does it Work to Reduce Pain?

The terpenes in essential oils interact with the endocannabinoid system, which is a signaling system within the body that controls a number of essential physiological functions including neurotransmitter release. This is widely expressed in the limbic system, making it able to effectively exert regulatory control over mood, emotions and pain response.

In 2017, the International Journal of Molecular Sciences published a comprehensive review stating that “several reviews have suggested the therapeutic potential of [essential oils] into multiple areas, including analgesics.” Today, aromatherapy is regularly recommended as a means of pain relief for even chronic pain conditions like arthritis. In some places, it’s even used by women in labor to help mitigate the pain and anxiety experienced during natural childbirth. 

In 2016, a systematic review published in the Pain Research and Treatment section of the Hindawi journal concluded that there was “a significant positive effect of aromatherapy in reducing pain.” It went on to state that, since there were no reports of adverse effects in any of the studies included in the review, aromatherapy could even be considered a safe addition to conventional pain management methods.

Ways to Benefit from Aromatherapy

There are many ways anyone can benefit from aromatherapy, regardless of their personal lifestyle. For those with less free time, skincare products often incorporate essential oils to facial cleansers and balms to help minimize the pain and inflammation associated with certain conditions like acne. Steamy baths with infused salts, diffusers, or incense burners can also offer more passive relief from pain symptoms. 

It’s easy to see that the popularity of aromatherapy is in no small part due to its versatility; it’s used across many cultures to help relieve pain conditions, and recommended by holistic enthusiasts and medical professionals alike.

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