Muscles are made up of striated tissue, which means lots of thin fibres banded together. These fibres should be able to easily slip backwards and forwards over each other. Like every action, when we use them our muscles create a waste bi-product. When overexerted, they struggle to rid themselves of the leftover lactic acid. When this happens, it’s painful. We feel stiff and ache. But there are things we can do to help ourselves. Today, we’ll explore the best essential oils for sore muscles.
The 10 Best Essential Oils for Sore Muscles
This is the most soothing and pain-relieving of all the plants and why it ranks as the top of the best essential oils for sore muscles. We love a few drops of lavender essential oil in the bath after a good workout.
Clearly, though, muscles don’t just get tight from being active. Quite the opposite in fact. Sometimes, we can sit still too long, have poor posture, but more often than that, it is due to stress.
Anger and frustration, feeling defensive or sad all affect the way we hold our bodies. We clench our fists and jaws, we tighten our glutes and our shoulders get stiff. Is the problem muscular then? The symptom most certainly is, but actually, it's the feelings that are causing the problem. So, this is why lavender scores so highly. Not only does it affect the pain, but also the emotional distress too.
Clearly, pregnancy is a huge cause for aching backs and joints, and lavender is beautiful for that, as long as you avoid using any essential oils during the first delicate 16 weeks.
In the introduction, we discussed how the muscles leave lactic acid behind. The body should be able to get rid of it by itself but unlike the circulatory system which is pumped by the heart, the lymphatic system relies on muscle tone. If the muscles are flabby or are not being worked hard enough, then there isn’t enough power to shift the toxicity out of the system.
If you take a moment now, to roll your head around a couple of times to stretch out your neck, can you feel and hear any crunching?
These are the lactic acid crystals that have built up.
Juniper cleanses the tissues and joints, dissipating the lactic acid and cleansing it out of the system. The combination of lavender and juniper are the best essential oils for sore muscles. We add others just to empower the blend a little.
Juniper is a powerful diuretic so we would not want to use this during pregnancy or if you have a kidney condition.
We love ginger for its heat. It is best understood through Ayurvedic medicine. In Ayurveda, they describe ginger as fueling the metabolic power of Agni. Agni is metabolism in terms of digestion, but it is more the force of a person’s spirit. How it drives their personality and fuels their thinking. Their thoughts are faster and sharper. Their temperature goes up and they digest food quicker so it runs straight through them, if you are not careful.
Ginger invigorates every process. Warming the muscles, speeding the detoxification processes and making you more dynamic too.
It’s one of the best essential oils for sore muscles that you haven’t warmed up properly in the winter. It’s a safe and easy oil to use, as long as you avoid the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
Be aware of the holistic nature of the oil through. If you are already hot from menopausal flashes or it's the height of summer, then leave this one alone for a bit. Likewise, if you are prone to loose stools, we would not suggest ginger as being the top of your best essential oils for sore muscles. Black pepper may be better for you.
So rosemary is a bit of a cheat because strictly speaking it’s more of a nerve pain oil than one specifically for muscles. We always cite this one with other essential oils for sore back muscles because it is superb for sciatica.
This one makes an interesting change because where lavender and chamomile are relaxing oils, rosemary is invigorating. Clearly, we don’t always want to fall straight to sleep after a massage with essential oils for back pain, so this makes a great alternative.
Just be a bit mindful of how you use rosemary essential oil if you have high blood pressure or suffer from seizures. Rosemary can also be problematic if you suffer from psychosis, schizophrenia or delusions. Likewise, we would not recommend using rosemary essential oil during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
Myositis pertains to conditions causing inflammation in muscles. Pain and weakness tend to be the most usual symptoms but there can also be inflammation too. It can be caused by injury, infection, injury, autoimmune condition or side effects from drugs.
If the muscle seems to be inflamed then Roman Chamomile can be most helpful. Rich in anti-inflammatory and analgesic constituents it is gentle, calming and soothing.
Along with lavender and juniper, this is one of the best essential oils to put in bath for sore muscles.
Chamomile is also a great choice if you are pregnant. We wouldn’t advise using any essential oils in those first delicate 16 weeks, but after that chamomile is so relaxing and calming to those overworked back muscles, legs and feet.
Copaiba is a lovely relaxing oil anyway, but it is rich in a constituent called beta-caryophyllene. This molecule acts upon the CB2 receptor which is associated with immunity, inflammation and pain.
The CB2 receptor is a key player in the endocannabinoid system, our primary endocrine system that acts as a volume switch for the chemical messengers in our body. When the CB2 receptor is not working well, we have skewed pain signalling, poor immunity and increased inflammation in the system.
Beta-caryophyllene has a weak binding affinity with this receptor, helping to support healthy pain signalling and inflammation.
Copaiba is a great oil to use for massages, lotions or in the bath. It is safe and easy to use as long as you avoid the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
In 2017, aromatherapy researcher, Elizabeth Ashley, set out to understand how helichrysum essential oil could have gone from being a virtually unknown medicine to being one of the most favoured treatments for strengthening health. Unmentioned in textbooks predating the 90s, where did this magically fortifying oil come from?
She set about exploring ancient texts and discovered it under another name “The amaranth” in ancient Greek literature. The amaranth was the most beloved plant of Artemis, the goddess of the wild, of childbirth and the mistress of herbal knowledge. Ashley discovered that far from being unknown, the greatest warriors had been bathed in helichrysum oil (that is a plant steeped vegetable oil) to strengthen them before they went into battle. Their bodies famously glistened in the sun like copper, bathed in a sister plant helichrysum sanguineum. (We sell helichrysum splendida which is a more golden colour than the blood coloured sanguineum.)
Helichrysum comes from a plant that is more usually referred to as the curry plant. It has velvety silver leaves and tiny bright yellow flowers. When they died, heroes were placed into tombs wearing wreaths and necklaces made from the amaranth. Also known as “Everlasting flower”, incredibly the flowers had dried perfectly, retaining their beautiful yellow colour two thousand years later.
When you look at herbal medicines from the ancient perspective, plants with yellow flowers come under solar medicine. The sun rules strength, power, rulership, and prowess. Thus, helichrysum, along with black pepper and ginger are the best oils for sore muscles from competitions and really driving yourself hard. In addition, helichrysum is a fantastic oil for using to condition your muscles in the hope this is the last time you might have to treat the pain.
Helichrysum for Injuries
On that note, consider that the warriors had gone into battle and would come home with bumps and grazes, this is another reason to use a helichrysum essential oil recipe for sore muscles. Packed with neryl acetate which is a skin healer, use it for boxer’s black eyes, injuries where you have fallen off a bike, sprained ankles etc. Not only does it heal cuts and abrasions, it is also terrific for bringing out bruising.
I’ve mentioned black pepper a few times as if it were secondary to other oils. That does it an injustice. Like ginger, it warms the muscles and joints. Black pepper is rubefacient, which means it causes redness on the skin. That comes from the blood being coaxed to the surface. The better the blood supply, the quicker the healing.
Again this is a great oil to use to condition the muscles.
Now peppermint works entirely different from any of the other oils on the list of the best essential oils for sore muscles. The others are warming, but this heals through a separate mechanism of cold.
At the beginning, we spoke about muscles being striated. These bundles of fibres are held together by taut bands which can become over-tightened and stuck.
Myofascia is the term used to describe the muscles and connective tissues in the body. The myofascia can become hypersensitized through trigger points along with these taut bands.
Trigger points can be active (when you feel pain) dormant/latent and can swap and change between the two. They follow a predictable pattern across the entire body.
Things like stress can activate these trigger points causing pain. To make the situation even more complex, these points also have satellite points, so sometimes a trigger point in the neck, or shoulder mantle, for example, might be the root of a migraine.
Peppermint is one of the best essential oils for sore muscles caused by myofascial trigger points.
Why peppermint and spearmint are two of the best essential oils for sore muscles from myofascial pain?
In this condition, the taut band reacts negatively to massage. It tenses, causing the band to get even tighter. However, it is confused by the cold. When given a sharp cold blast, from a freeze spray, or an ice cube, the taut band tenses, then relaxes. You have a small window to be able to stretch it in massage.
The skin is full of receptors that monitor sensations like temperature, pain and pressure. These are called the TRPV channels. Each reacts to several sensations. TRPV8 is responsive to mechanical pressure (so it hurts if you get pinched, but also registers a masseur’s pressure) and the cold.
It is also activated by the chemical constituent menthol, which is found in mints. There are TRPV8 receptors in our jaws, which is why your mouth feels cold when you clean your teeth.
When the muscle is exposed to peppermint essential oil, it mistakes the menthol for cold, so clenches and releases giving you a tremendous window for massage. It’s a great choice for essential oil roller blends for sore muscles.
Clearly though, if you intend to employ this technique, it would be ill-advised to combine peppermint with a warm oil like ginger or black pepper that would negate your efforts.
Menthol also slows respiration, so if you decide to use this on a child please use it on their backs, and not close to their faces. To be honest, though, we are always a little reticent to suggest peppermint for children. It invigorates so much and can interfere with their sleep. Again, this would not be one of the best essential oils to put in a bath for sore muscles at bedtime. You’ll be doing your seven times table at 3 am. Pregnancy wise, it is safe after the first 16 weeks.
Not much has been written about Plai oil. It is a member of the ginger family, indigenous to Thailand. Increasingly used by aromatherapists for pain management, especially for any chronic conditions such as arthritis and rheumatism, it is also one of the best essential oils for sore muscles. Valerie Anne Worwood cites it as being It is wonderful for helping with torn ligaments and tendonitis (we would pair it with frankincense) and muscular spasm (we would blend with rosemary or clary sage. It’s a great one to add to an essential oil blend for sore muscles.
Diy Essential Oil Recipe For Sore Muscles
Essential Oils For Sore Back Muscles
- 10ml Grapeseed carrier oil (Vitis vinifera)
- 10 drops Tamanu carrier oil (Calophyllum inophyllum)
- 5 drops Lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia)
- 5 drops Juniper essential oil (Communis juniperus)
- 1 drop Plai essential oil (Zingiber cassumunar Roxb)
Safety: Not suitable for use during pregnancy or if you have a kidney condition.
Thinking about the cause of your aches and pains will help you to choose the best essential oils for sore muscles. Massage is always fantastic and is proven not only to help with muscular stiffness but conditions like menopausal mood swings as the body react positively to touch and care. Adding oils to your bath, and even inhaling them can help reduce stress making you feel happier, healthier and more alive.