Remedies and Essential Oils for Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain is a common condition that could be attributed by lots of factors. Depending on the underlying cause, sometimes treatment is necessary to target the exact cause of the pain. But many times, home remedies are often enough to cope with. Here are a few remedies and essential oils for shoulder pain.

Apply cold or/and heat to the affected area

Cold therapy is a good way to help ease inflammation, promoting pain relief. Heat helps relieve stiffness and relax your muscles. And you may need both for certain situations, for example if you shoulder pain is caused by arthritis.

Although heat or cold therapy is affordable, simple, and practical remedy – you need to clearly understand when and how to use it properly. This is important to get benefits most and avoid potential risks of treatment.

Heat therapy

Heat for pain relief is one of effective ways to dilate blood vessels, improving blood flow to the affected area which eventually will help stimulate and improve healing process of damaged tissues. This may also help relax and soothe your muscles.

Typically, heat therapy is best for the following conditions:

  1. If your shoulder pain is caused by over-exertion or aching muscles.
  2. Chronic pain conditions (e.g. fibromyalgia and some types of arthritis).
  3. Spasm /cramping (e.g. menstrual pain).

Too hot could be counterproductive, increasing the risk of skin burns or scalds. So it’d better to avoid ‘too hot’ temperatures. Instead, ‘warm’ temperatures are your best bet. Heat applied directly (e.g. when using heating pads) must be used extra carefully, maximum 20 minutes or less at a time!

It’s more recommended to avoid putting heat packs directly onto your skin. To keep safe, use a towel or something else between your skin and the heat source for protection. Also, check your skin at regular intervals.

While heat therapy is one of practical pain relievers, it doesn’t work for any cases. It is not recommended for swollen and bruised area (over area that is in poor condition). You should also avoid using it for any area with an open wound or a new injury -- don’t use it for tissue damage (bleeding, new injury), because it will provoke bleeding under the skin and make the problem worse! It’s also not recommended for any areas that are in presence of infection.

Stop therapy right away if it causes swelling, skin burns, or if it hasn’t helped lessen the pain after a week. Ask your doctor first if you have certain medical conditions that make risks of heat application more likely to occur (e.g. diabetes, skin problem /dermatitis, and multiple sclerosis).

There are several options to use heat for pain relief. The most common ones are in the form of a gentle warmth wheat bag, deep heat cream, heat lamp, reusable heat pad, or hot water bottle.

Use heat therapy for a good amount of time, which needs to be limited. Mild pain (e.g. minor tension or stiffness) is often enough to relieve from 15-20 minutes of heat therapy. If necessary, repeat a few times a day to gain complete relief. For moderate and severe pain, you may need to have longer sessions of heat therapy (such as warm bath).

Cold therapy

Cold is one of common DIY remedies to help relieve inflammation and swelling. It reduces blood flow to certain area of the body, which is helpful to reduce bleeding, inflammation (swelling), and numb that area. It can also soothe nerve activity, a good way for pain relief.

Unlike heat, ice can be used for shoulder pain caused by a recent injury (inflamed, warmer to touch). Even some experts say it’d better to use it immediately after injury to help soothe muscle pain and spasm.

But this therapy is not recommended for areas with very poor condition in which medical intervention is required, areas of the body with poor circulation and poor sensation to cold. If you’re diabetic, ask your doctor first. Also, don’t use it:

  1. In the presence of infection.
  2. In the neck area (either around the side or front of the neck).
  3. If you have a heart problem, don’t use it on your left shoulder or ask your doctor first for more guidance!

How to use ice for pain relief? There are several options to choose from. For example, use an ice pack (wrapped in a towel) and apply it to the affected area of your shoulder. Don’t put ice packs directly to the skin!

A packet of frozen vegetables (peas, for example) is also a good way for cold therapy. But don’t eat them afterwards, because it’s bad idea to eat any vegies that have been thawed and re-frozen. Purpose-made ice/cold packs are also available, and you can buy them from your local pharmacies.

If you need to use any type of ice therapy for a deep freeze, do the procedure carefully to reduce the risk of ice burns! During therapy, check your skin regularly. Remove the pack if your skin is red or bright pink. You should not apply ice for more than 20 minutes at a time. Studies suggest that there is little benefit to get from leaving it on for longer, even this could be counterproductive.

Essential oils for shoulder pain

Depending on the cause of your shoulder pain, essential oils could be effective enough to help relieve the problem. They are highly fragrant substances removed from the roots, stems, petals, or other parts of certain plants through steam distillation.

Each type of essential oils has unique properties and benefits. These oils may be used as blends or individually. But do they really work for pain relief?

Certain essential oils may help ease a number of ailments such as headaches, inflammation, sleep disorder, respiratory problems, depression, and headaches. Some may also work for pain management.

Depending on the underlying cause, here are a few examples of essential oils that may work for your shoulder pain:

Lavender oil

This essential oil is derived mostly from the flowers of the lavender plant, as the name suggests, through steam distillation. It contains essential properties such as calming, antimicrobial, anti-depressive, and powerful antioxidant properties. Therefore it has been used in numerous different therapies for decades. Does it also work for shoulder pain?

It’s hard to find specific study to confirm the effectiveness of using lavender oil for shoulder pain relief. But in general, several studies show that it acts as a natural painkiller.

  1. One study suggests that topical application of lavender oil may help ease pain of inserting needles for kidney dialysis. The result of this study was published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine Journal.
  2. The combination of lavender oil and other essential oils may also help ease neck pain when applied daily to the affected area, according to a study released in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
  3. It may help soothe menstrual pain and discomforts associated with dysmenorrhea when massaged on the lower abdomen. [1]

This excellent remedy is also recommended for pains caused by sprains, sore & tense muscles, lumbago, muscular aches, backache, or during recovery after surgery. For topical use, just gently rub it with carrier oil (like coconut oil) into the area of your concern.

Ginger

Most commonly, ginger is added to meals as a spice. It is gaining fame for its uniquely preservation and flavoring capabilities. But it also has been used for many decades in folk medicine. One of the best ways to use ginger as medicine is with its oil.

Ginger oil contains potent anti-inflammatory properties, which are so good to help relieve shoulder pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Substance called zingibain is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent found in ginger. Studies show it helps ease arthritis pain, muscle aches, headaches, and migranes. Also, experts believe ginger oil helps reduce prostaglandins, compounds in the body that provoke pain [2].

To help relieve pain, it is usually used with topical application (rubbed topically on an area of pain). If you are not a fan of ginger — orange oil, frankincense oil, or turmeric oils could be your alternative choices.

Rosemary

Like lavender, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) belongs to the mint family. It is gaining popularity as an aromatic herb, which also tastes yummy on potatoes and roasted lamb.

It can be a powerful essential oil, too. The oil is derived from the flowering tops and leaves of the plant. It acts as invigorating and purifying since it has a woody, evergreen-like scent.

Also, rosemary is high in antioxidant properties. It has an antioxidant ORAC value of 11,070, making it as one of excellent free-radical fighting powerhouses to help treat various ailments. For thousands of years, it has been used in traditional medicine to help treat memory problems, digestive problems, and improve the body immune system. [3]

Topical application with rosemary oil is also a good way to help ease aches and pains. Dilute 2 drops of the oil into 1 teaspoon of carrier oil, and then gently rub on the painful area of your shoulder. This will help ease inflammation and improve circulation.

Bergamot oil

This essential oil is extracted from fruits (a type of citrus fruit) of a plant called Citrus bergamia. As a natural remedy, it has been used for various ailments like hypertension (high blood pressure), anxiety, depression, digestive problems, fever, oral health, and respiratory conditions.

It’s also effective to provide pain relief. It helps ease the symptoms of headaches, sprains, and muscle aches. It carries analgesic effects and is recommended in complementary medicine to ease tension in the body, according to a few studies [4]. Linalool, active component in bergamot oil, may have a role to suppress effects on pain receptors of the body. It’s not bad idea to give it a try if you have neuropathic pain.

There is almost no side effect, especially if it’ used properly. But to keep safe, dilute first with coconut oil or other carrier oils. Then rub gently on sore muscles of your shoulder or where you feel tension.

Cedar-wood essential oil

Cedars are often symbolized as a source of protection and abundance. And did you know that oil derived from cedars is also an essential oil for numerous ailments? It has active components such as insecticidal, diuretic, antifungal, astringent, sedative, and anti-inflammatory properties. For best result – look for 100% pure, therapeutic grade product processed with CO2 extraction methods.

Since it is excellent anti-inflammatory powerhouse, it can help lessen the pain associated with inflammation of the tissues and joints. It is effective to ease inflammation, pain, and stiffness [5]. Plus, it helps soothe the body tension and stress. It carries a calming and soothing effect on the mind, making your pain and inflammation relieve more easily.

As with most essential oils, just apply it topically to areas of concern. Another idea, try making yourself comfortable with 5-10 drops of cedar oil for a bath!

Chamomile

Chamomile plant is a flowering plant. Its flower can be extracted and here is where the essential oil comes from. The oil has some essential medicinal components, including analgesic (painkiller) properties. Therefore it could also be one of your alternatives for pain relief.

Furthermore, chamomile is loaded with soothing properties that will help you relax and get a good sleep at night. And if you can sleep well, this can be so helpful to manage and relieve your shoulder pain.

There are 2 types of chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla (German chamomile) and Anthemis nobilis (Roman chamomile). The oil extracted from both types look similar, but their composition is actually different in some medicinal properties. For pain relief (especially pain that has to do with inflammation), the German chamomile is probably better than the Roman chamomile since it contains azulene (a very powerful anti-inflammatory agent).

Clove

Essential oil extracted from clove (Eugenia caryophyllata) is incredibly impressive to treat numerous different ailments, ranging from improving gum health and helping acne to reducing inflammation and promoting healthy blood circulation.

It may also effectively ease inflammation and pain. One study shows that eugenol — the main component of clove oil which is also responsible for unique, powerful fragrance of the clove — is indeed a strong anti-inflammatory agent [6]. Although it is best known for treating pain and discomforts associated with dental problems, it may work for treating pain elsewhere in the body.

Precautions (what to remember to keep safe)

Just because they are ‘natural’ remedies, this doesn’t mean you’re going without any risks! It’s important to use them correctly. Here are a few precautions to remember:

  1. For topical application, always use your chosen essential oil with carrier oil. In high concentrations, it may cause skin irritation or other counterproductive effects. So you need to dilute it! There are many carrier oils to choose from. These include sesame, avocado, sweet almond, jojoba, apricot kernel, olive, and coconut oil.
  2. A patch test is worth a try. Some people are allergic to some oils. If you’re one of them, apply a bit of diluted essential oil with carrier oil on your forearm. It should be OK to use if there is no any counterproductive reaction after 24-48 hours.
  3. Talk your doctor first before trying any herbs or alternative treatments (including essential oils) if you’re pregnant, nursing, or taking certain medication. Some essential oil, especially if not properly used, could be counterproductive during pregnancy and breastfeeding. And some may cause medication interactions.
  4. Avoid using large amounts of any essential oils at a time. Or ask your doctor first if you have to!
  5. Also, some essential oils are not recommended for children, especially those under age 2 years. Even rosemary oil should not be used topically for children under age 6.

In general, essential oils are safe for most people. However, there is always a chance that a few people might react negatively. So it’s much better to be aware of the risks or side effects associated with each type of essential oil you’re going to.

  1. Lavender, when topically applied, might cause skin irritation for people who’re allergic to – though this is uncommon. It might also affect the normal hormone development in young children, so avoid using it for children who have not yet achieved their puberty.
  2. Ginger may provoke the risk of bleeding. Don’t use its oil if you’re taking a blood thinner medication!
  3. Rosemary should not be applied to mucous membranes, eyes, and any sensitive areas!
  4. Bergamot oil may increase sensitivity to the sunlight. Therefore it should not be used with any other medications that provoke this negative side effect to prevent skin rashes, blisters, or sunburn. Make sure to always use protective clothing and sunblock when you need to spend hours for your outdoor activities.
  5. Cedar oil is not recommended to be used internally, it is not safe to consume. So it’s only recommended for topical application (external use).
  6. Oil derived from the Roman chamomile may act as an emmenagogue, stimulating blood to flow into the pelvic area. Therefore, don’t use it during pregnancy!
  7. In large doses, eugenol of clove oil may cause skin irritation. So as with most essential oils, don’t overdo it! Moreover, it’s not recommended if you’re regularly taking blood-thinning medications because it slows down blood clotting.

Also, essential oils are not recommended if you have particular health medications that make their potential side effects more likely to occur. Mostly, they are not recommended for diabetics, though a few of them (e.g. bergamot oil) may help control /lower blood sugar levels. Therefore it’d better to ask your doctor first if you have a medical condition.

Apple cider vinegar

Other than being added for food flavoring, apple cider vinegar provides a variety of health advantages. It provides numerous essential components — including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties — which play a role to help improve swelling and pain associated with inflammation [7].

Is there any scientific evidence to support its effectiveness for pan relief? Unfortunately, currently there is no cut answer for that question. However, it has been used for many years in traditional medicine to help treat various ailments, including for pain management.

Some people with arthritis find that it helps relieve their arthritis pain. So it’s not bad idea to give it a try to help relieve your shoulder pain, especially if your pain has to do with inflammation. Plus, it is an inexpensive remedy and affordable to try.

In case for local pain relief, apply it topically with a cotton ball twice a day. Make sure to dilute it with carrier oil to reduce the risk of skin irritation.  Taking a bath with the vinegar before bed is also a good idea.  Add 1 cup of apple cider vinegar, and take about 15-20 minutes in your evening bath. This may help ease swelling and stiffness of your shoulder.

Mostly there is no risk because apple cider vinegar is safe for most adults. But it you experience an adverse reaction, stop the therapy!

Epsom Salt Bath

Epsom salt bath has lots of folk remedy claims, including for pain relief. Although there aren’t a lot of evidences to confirm its effectiveness, in fact it’s one of common alternative options to help relieve pain associated with various conditions such as arthritis, sunburn, sore muscles, fibromyalgia, and tired (swollen feet).

What is Epsom salt? Its chemical structure is like a salt, but it’s not like the salt you put on fries. It’s different from Dead Sea salts and fancy bath crystals. It is not expensive. You can get a large box for a few dollars.

How does it work? Soaking in warm water can drive your muscles to relax. This also will loosen your stiff joints. And adding Epsom salt may make these benefits more likely, because it breaks down into sulfate and magnesium in water.

How to use it? Make sure the water is warm enough (but not hot) — very hot water can hurt your skin, making it drying out. Add 1-2 cups of the salt (for a standard-sized tub), it’d better to add it while the water is running so it dissolves more effectively. Then soak in water with your shoulder for about 15-20 minutes – just relax!

Precautions! It should not be used in whirlpool, hot tub, or something else with jets (except if you have recommendation from the manufactures). And although taking this kind of bath therapy is safe, it’d better to check with your doctor first if you have health concerns.
Resources:

  1. https://draxe.com/lavender-oil-benefits/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2214812
  3. https://www.superfoodly.com/orac-value/fresh-rosemary-leaves/
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20093169
  5. https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?setid=566732ca-7b6e-44e3-9ec9-55ea0ee4279a
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24099633
  7. https://doi.org/10.1080/14786419.2017.1413567