There’s something deeply empowering about taking your family’s health into your own hands says Lucy Corkhill. Essential oils – derived from the flowers, leaves, bark, seeds and fruit of plants – allow you to have a pharmacy of healing in your own home.

The practise of using essential oils is called aromatherapy and can be dated back to Ancient Egypt. Aromatherapy Awareness Week starts on 10 June and is a great opportunity to find out more about this healing art. Aromatherapy Awareness Week is organised by the International Federation of Aromatherapists (IFA) and has been an annual event on their calendar since 2008.

Each year the IFA organise activities to raise the profile of aromatherapy and therapists across the UK, from volunteering in hospices to talking on the radio. Some IFA-registered therapists also offer 10% off treatments during the week, enabling people to try out aromatherapy perhaps for the first time. 

Statistics show that an incredible one in six people in the UK is affected by back pain and many cannot find relieve through conventional medicine. With approximately 7.6 million working days lost to back pain each year, educating employers about the benefits of clinical aromatherapy is also part of the picture. Since 1985 the IFA have been involved in UK research on the therapeutic uses of clinical aromatherapy and it is this expertise they draw upon to inform and inspire as many people as possible. 

If you are one of the many sufferers of back pain, why not contact your local aromatherapist for support and advice? When you visit an aromatherapist, they will take a full case history including information about past injuries and general health. They will then select oils for your specific needs and mix them up in a base oil. The blended oils are then massaged into your skin and you can relax and unwind whilst receiving the many benefits of an aromatherapy massage. You will usually be given advice on what oils are most suitable for your condition and often sent home with a blend of oils to use whenever you need to. 

If you would like to make up your own aromatherapy blend for back pain, you can purchase essential oils at most health food shops or online. Check that you are purchasing from a reputable supplier and getting 100% pure essential oils rather than fragrances. Essential oils vary enormously in cost depending on the distillation process, so be wary of anywhere selling them at the same price.

For use on the skin, essential oils need to be blended in a carrier or base oil – this is because they are highly concentrated and if used neat will irritate the skin. Make up your blend in a dark glass bottle to ensure its longevity and store somewhere dark between uses. For back pain, try massaging into the lower back with circular motions and up the sides of the spine – for best results, get someone to do it for you!

Here are the top five essential oils for back pain:

  1. Roman Chamomile – Renowned for its soothing anti-inflammatory properties, this is the go-to oil for pain-reduction. It helps to control muscle spasms (antispasmodic) and induce relaxation. As back pain can have such an impact on general wellbeing, it is worth noting that research on Roman Chamomile has shown its usefulness in cases of depression and anxiety. 
  2. Lavender – Even in conventional medical circles, Lavender oil is recognised as an analgesic. It is probably one of the most researched oils and has been found to ease pain and anxiety. Like Chamomile, it is anti-inflammatory and can be used at the first signs of a back pain attack. As it helps to induce sleep, it can also be used as a sedative for those struggling to drop off when in pain. 
  3. Clary Sage – This pungent and powerful oil has a deeply sedative effect and can be very useful for back pain in labour but its use is not recommended during pregnancy because of its labour-inducing properties. For back pain sufferers, however, this oil can help tense, cramped muscles and provide relief from chronic pain. 
  4. Black pepper – This invigorating and uplifting essential oil is great for tired and overworked muscles. It is warming and analgesic and can be used in conjunction with Ginger essential oil to create a revitalising massage blend. Black pepper is often used where the body or body part has gone rigid or where there is chronic inflammation – particularly useful when the spine or lower back feels frozen with pain. 
  5. Peppermint – Used with awareness and caution (you need very few drops to experience the effects and it can cause skin irritation) peppermint oil is incredibly cooling to areas of pain and soreness, especially those that feel hot to the touch. A cold compress of a flannel soaked in cool water with a few drops of peppermint oil added will bring relieve to acute pain in muscles and joints. 

These oils can be used on their own or in conjunction with one another to get the most benefit. Add 6 drops of Roman Chamomile, 8 drops of Lavender, 3 drops of Clary Sage, 2 drops of Black Pepper and 1 drop of Peppermint essential oils to 20ml of base oil to make your own soothing back pain blend.

Image: With thanks to Christin Hume

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