Is Clove Oil Good for Back Pain

Clove oil has potent compounds which some are probably good to help relieve pain. One that’s considered most potential to help treat a variety of different medical conditions is a chemical compound called ‘eugenol’, which is also responsible for the unique ability of clove to keep food from spoiling. This essential oil is quite popular to be found in dental care (e.g. oral care medications, toothpaste and mouthwashes). But is it also good for back pain?

First off, what causes back pain can vary

Back pain is very common, which also becomes one of the most common reasons why people see doctors. The intensity of the pain can range from mild to severe.

There are many factors and causes that contribute to back pain. Even the pain could be a sign of particular health conditions.

If the pain strikes suddenly (acute), common causes include a heavy lifting and fall! When it develops gradually, it’s more likely associated with certain health condition (though not always).

Not all back pain has a specific cause. Sometimes, the exact cause of the problem is unknown (unidentifiable) even though after following tests.

The following are a few medical conditions commonly associated to back pain:

Arthritis

Arthritis is a group of disorders that typically affect the joints. Some types of arthritis — e.g. rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis — have to do with the abnormality of body immune system, causing systemic effect to other parts of the body.

Several types of arthritis can also affect the back and, causing back pain. Osteoarthritis (the most common type of arthritis) for example, sometimes causes spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the space within the spinal cord).

Osteoporosis

This common bone disease occurs when the production of new bone cells is not enough to replace the old ones, making your body lose more bone cells. As a result, the bones tend to become weak and brittle. If this deficiency occurs in the spine, your back could be brittle and painful due to compression fractures of the spine’s vertebrae.

The risk of osteoporosis increases with age. Medical intervention is usually required, depending on the level of bone density. If the risk of bone fractures is high, treatment is necessary.

Bulging and herniated disks

The disks have critical function to cushion each vertebra of the spine. Their outer layer is tough cartilage that protects more fragile, softer cartilage in the core. They are required to help the spine move smoothly and easily.

Unfortunately, they can wear and tear over time, making them more vulnerable to get bulged and even ruptured (herniated). Herniated disk is a condition in which the tough cartilage (outer layer of the disk) cracks, allowing the inner-softer cartilage to protrude out. It is usually more painful than bulging disk (when the outer layer of the disk is only affected).

Ligament /muscle strain

Your spinal ligaments, important fibrous tissues that connect the joints and bones in the back, can get strained with a sudden-awkward change of movement or repeated heavy lifting. The same goes for your back muscles.

Constant ligament or muscle strain in the back can be quite painful. This is particularly true when we’re in poor physical condition, making the pain more likely.

Skeletal irregularities (bone changes)

For example, scoliosis (a bone disorder in which the spine curves abnormally to the side) could be severe enough to cause pain. Since most cases of scoliosis are mild, the pain is probably not noticeable until middle age.

Back pain associated with this abnormal bone structure can be chronic. Over time the disorder might also increase the risk of other serious complications. If left untreated, it may get worse and affect the lung & heart function.

The good news, mostly back pain is mild. Also, it is rarely associated with anything serious – though it could signal medical condition as mentioned above.

What else?

Back pain can affect anyone (including children and teens). In general, it is more likely to occur with some of the following factors:

  1. Age is one of significant risk factors. The pain is more common with age, starting age 30-40.
  2. Sedentary lifestyle. Lack of exercise is bad for the strength of your back structure. People with enough physical activity are more likely to have strong back muscles than those with lack of exercise.
  3. Obesity or overweight. Your back is critical to support the body. More pounds of extra weight will put more pressure on the back, making it work harder.
  4. Chronic, uncontrolled psychological problems (stress, depression, and anxiety). Over time what you feel emotionally will take a serious toll on your overall health, including the back.
  5. Bad behaviors, smoking for example. Tobacco smoke carries lots of harmful chemicals, which some may affect the blood flow to the spine.

So, is clove oil good for back pain?

Clove is derived from the flower bud of the evergreen tree called Syzygium aromaticum. It is widely used to improve flavor of hot beverages, season pot roasts, and to add spicy warmth of cakes & cookies. Also, it is popular as one of the main ingredients in a staple spice and gingerbread baked goods.

And in addition to improve flavor, it is quite popular as a great natural remedy due to its potent medicinal properties. It has minerals, vitamins, and fiber which are important nutrients for the body.

Two grams (1 tsp.) of ground cloves contain 21 calories, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram carbs, 3 percent of the RDI (vitamin C), 4 percent of the RDI (vitamin K), and 30 percent of the RDI (manganese) [1].

Fiber is important to help keep your bowel movements regular and prevent constipation. Vitamin K and C, each is involved for blood clothing and strengthening your immune system. Manganese is required to help keep the bones strong and maintain your brain function. Plus, cloves have a few amounts of magnesium, calcium, and vitamin E.

The vitamin C content is an antioxidant, which is so helpful to fight against harmful free radicals. But what makes cloves become more powerful to protect the body from harmful oxidative stress is eugenol. One study suggests that eugenol may work more effectively in neutralizing free radicals than vitamin E [2]. How about back pain?

There is no cut answer for the effectiveness of clove oil containing eugenol in treating back pain. As mentioned earlier, back pain is attributed by many factors. So the underlying cause of the pain matters.

Eugenol found in cloves may help relieve pain because it’s a natural antioxidant. Plus, it may help numb the skin — which is also probably helpful to provide temporary pain relief. It has long been used to help ease toothache. Oral medicines containing this potent chemical compound are commonly used in dentistry. Unfortunately the evidence for its effectiveness in this area is inconclusive, more research is needed.

One study suggested it was effective to ease the pain during the insertion of needles in dentistry [3]. But this is not enough yet to back up the claim.

It seems there is no specific evidence to support the use of clove oil for back pain. Even its effectiveness in treating toothache is now also questionable. Based on the currently available evidence, FDA (the United States Food and Drug Administration) has downgraded its effectiveness for tooth pain.

But if you use the oil for pain relief only, especially for mild pain, it’s probably worth a try – at least a few studies on animals suggested it might help provide pain relief [4]. Plus, there is no downside (topical application with clove oil is safe for most people) and it’s an affordable pain reliever.

Remember, essential oils (including clove oil) are very concentrated. Use it carefully! If you use them improperly, they may hurt your skin. So always dilute them with carrier oil before full application to avoid the risk of skin irritation!

See a doctor if …!

Regardless of whether or not clove oil is good for back pain, it’s important to understand when to seek medical help promptly. Although back pain is usually mild and will get better over time, again it could also be a warning sign and symptom of serious medical problems.

To keep safe, see a doctor if:

  1. The pain is accompanied by any symptoms that worry you (e.g. bladder problems, bowel problems, high fever, unintentional weight loss, or numbness /tingling / weakness in legs).
  2. It doesn’t get better with rest or other lifestyle measures.
  3. It is constant severe, spreads elsewhere in the body, or gets worse over time.
Resources:

  1. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/spices-and-herbs/181/2
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20013178
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26188932
  4. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00210-012-0742-2