Neuropathy is a general term for conditions that develop as a result of nerve damage. One of the most common forms of neuropathy is diabetic peripheral neuropathy, which occurs in up to 50 percent of people with diabetes.
Peripheral neuropathy typically affects a person’s hand and feet. It can cause pain, tingling, and numbness. Other types of neuropathy can also develop in people with diabetes.
Research suggests that some essential oils may help reduce pain resulting from inflammation and nerve damage. However, much of the available research comes from animal models and individual case studies.
In this article, we look at some essential oils that may relieve neuropathic pain as well as the supporting evidence.
We also describe how to use the oils, risks and considerations, other treatments, and causes and symptoms of neuropathy.
A 2014 study compared the effectiveness of Swedish massage using aromatic ginger oil with traditional Thai massage in 140 older adults who had chronic lower back pain.
Although both treatments improved the symptoms, Swedish massage with aromatic ginger oil was more effective than Thai massage in reducing pain and disability.
Ginger oil contains a compound called zingibain, which possess potent anti-inflammatory properties. Zingibain, therefore, may help reduce neuropathic pain that results from inflammatory conditions.
However, researchers have not yet investigated the use of ginger oil for the specific treatment of neuropathic pain.
Many ginger essential oils are available to purchase online.
Borneol, a compound in chamomile and lavender essential oils, may help reduce pain and inflammation that relates to neuropathy.
A 2015 study found that borneol reduced pain sensitivity in mice with neuropathic pain. However, confirming the effect in humans will require further studies.
Many chamomile essential oils are available to purchase online.
St. John’s wort
St. John’s wort, or Hypericum perforatum, is a traditional remedy for depression and anxiety. People also use extracts to treat burns, inflammation, and nerve pain.
According to a 2017 case report, a person with trigeminal neuralgia — a type of nerve pain that affects the face — found that a homeopathic preparation of St. John’s wort helped relieve the symptoms.
The authors of the report concluded that St. John’s wort “may be a promising therapeutic option” for treating this pain, but further research is necessary.
Aromatherapy products containing St. John’s wort essential oils are available to purchase online.
Some studies suggest that lavender oil may help reduce pain and anxiety.
Inhaling lavender essential oil may help promote relaxation and reduce pain and anxiety.
A 2016 study looked at the effectiveness of aromatherapy during peripheral venous cannulation, which involves the insertion of a tube with a needle into a peripheral vein.
After recruiting 106 people who were due to undergo the procedure, the researchers randomly assigned the participants to receive either aromatherapy with lavender essential oil or a placebo.
Following the cannulation, those in the lavender group reported significantly less pain and anxiety than those in the placebo group.
However, a 2014 study found that lavender oil aromatherapy had no effect on reducing pain in people undergoing open-heart surgery.
A range of lavender essential oils are available to purchase online.
Holy basil, also known as tulsi or tulasi, is an aromatic plant that grows throughout the Indian continent and Southeast Asia. Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine have long used it to treat a range of conditions, including nerve pain.
A 2015 study found that holy basil extract significantly reduced sciatic nerve pain in rats. However, confirming these findings in humans will require further research.
People can purchase holy basil essential oils online.
Peppermint oil has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. It may also help regulate the immune system and reduce muscle spasms.
The findings of a 2019 systematic review suggest that peppermint oil may help relieve gastrointestinal pain from irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. However, researchers have yet to establish whether peppermint oil can help treat nerve pain.
A number of peppermint essential oils are available online.
How to use
People either inhale essential oils or use them as a massage oil.
A person can try adding a few drops of essential oil to a diffuser, bath water, or soft furnishings, such as pillows.
When using essential oils in a massage, always dilute them in a carrier oil, such as almond or olive oil. Gently massage the mixture into the affected area.
Risks and considerations
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) class most essential oils as cosmetic products, which means that it does not regulate their quality or safety. It is therefore advisable to only purchase essential oils from reputable manufacturers and to carefully read any labels or directions.
Aromatherapy involves using essential oil, either in a diffuser or a massage.
Pure essentials oils are very concentrated, and some can be toxic, so people should not ingest them.
It is also important to dilute essential oils in a carrier oil before using them directly on the skin. Manufacturers often provide instructions on dilution and safe usage.
Essential oils can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some people, so it is advisable to perform a patch test before using a new oil.
A patch test involves applying the diluted oil to a small area of skin, such as the back of the hand or part of the forearm. Do not use the oil if the skin becomes itchy, red, or dry.
Essential oils may interact with certain medications, such as antidepressants and stimulants. People taking prescription medications should seek advice from their doctor before using an essential oil.
Consider pets, children, and pregnant women before diffusing essential oils.
Other treatments for neuropathy
Medical treatment for neuropathy generally depends on treating the underlying cause. For example, good control of blood glucose levels may help reduce symptoms in people with diabetic neuropathy.
Doctors may prescribe medications to help relieve pain in people with neuropathy. These can include:
- tramadol, codeine, and hydrocodone
- alpha-2 adrenergic agonists, including clonidine and tizanidine
- antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, imipramine, and duloxetine
- anticonvulsants, such as gabapentin and lamotrigine
- topical pain relievers, such as lidocaine patches, sprays, and ointments
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a therapy that uses electrical currents to treat pain and relieve muscle spasms.
TENS therapy involves placing electrodes on the affected areas of the body. These connect to a small device that delivers mild electrical current to the nerves. People can use a TENS device at home.
The authors of a 2017 systematic review were unable to come to a definite conclusion about whether TENS can relieve neuropathic pain. They attributed this to the low quality of available evidence and pointed to the need for further studies.
Some people report pain relief with TENS therapy, and it is a relatively safe approach. When using a TENS unit, it is essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Various TENS units are available to purchase online.
Regular physical therapy can help reduce neuropathic pain. Physical therapy for neuropathy focuses on improving muscle strength, flexibility, and balance.
A specialized physical therapist or other healthcare professional will work closely with a person to develop a tailored exercise routine.
Causes and symptoms of neuropathy
Stress may cause a person to have neuropathy.
There are many causes of neuropathy. Some of these include:
Neuropathy can cause a wide range of symptoms, depending on which nerves the condition affects.
Symptoms of neuropathy can include:
- numbness, tingling, or burning sensations in the extremities, such as the hands and feet
- reduced or extreme sensitivity to touch
- muscle weakness
- difficulty walking
- muscle spasms
- digestive issues
- excessive sweating
- difficulty swallowing
Neuropathic pain is a type of pain that results from conditions that affect the nerves. Peripheral neuropathy is common in people with diabetes and can cause pain, tingling, and numbness in the hands and feet.
Limited research suggests that certain essential oils may help to relieve certain types of pain and inflammation. However, many of the studies were in animals or did not specifically investigate the effects of essential oils on neuropathic pain.