What you can do
Sore muscles are bound to happen after a workout, but they don’t have to derail the rest of your day. If foam rolling and over-the-counter pain relievers aren’t doing the trick — or if you want something a little more natural — it may be time to consider essential oils.
From eucalyptus to yarrow, there are a number of different oils that you can use to quickly ease muscle pain, tension, and swelling. Some of these tried and true options can tackle all three symptoms, while others are used for more targeted relief.
Read on to find out what you should be slipping into your gym bag or adding to your evening bath.
Use these oils for pain, tension, and swelling
Each of the following oils boast being able to treat pain, tension, and swelling — talk about a triple threat! For added relief, consider mixing two or three of these oils together to create a custom blend.
You can also try out different combinations to see which oils work best for you:
- Peppermint oil. Peppermint contains menthol, which has a cooling effect on sore, achy muscles. It also has analgesic, antispasmodic, and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Helichrysum oil. Helichrysum relieves muscle spasms, inflammation, and pain.
- Marjoram oil. Majoram relaxes muscle spasms and tension. It’s known for its ability to ease pain and inflammation.
Use these oils for pain and swelling
These oils pull double duty by easing muscle pain and swelling.
You can use them separately or combine them to create your own blend:
- Lavender oil. Lavender is prized for its ability to calm and relax. It also relieves pain and inflammation.
- Eucalyptus oil. Eucalyptus has a cooling effect on muscles and reduces pain and inflammation.
- Roman and German chamomile oils. Chamomile oils can alleviate pain and inflammation. They also help soothe muscle tension and reduce spasms.
- Rosemary oil. Rosemary is noted for its ability to ease pain and inflammation.
- Yarrow oil. Yarrow is used to reduce pain and inflammation.
Use these oils for tension and swelling
If you’re dealing with a mix of muscle tension and swelling, these oils may do the trick.
You can use them individually or create a synergistic blend:
If you’re only dealing with one symptom
Although it’s great to have super oils on hand, you may not always need to treat multiple symptoms. Here’s what you can pick up to ease one symptom at a time — and create a custom blend once your cabinet is stocked!
For pain relief only
You can use one or more of these oils to relieve pain and discomfort:
- Ginger oil. Ginger has a warming effect on sore muscles, which helps relieve pain.
- Black pepper oil. Black pepper alleviates pain by warming up your body.
- Clove oil. Clove is often used to treat pain. It also has a warming effect on sore muscles.
For tension relief only
Consider using one of these oils to soothe muscle spasms and tension:
- Clary sage oil. Clary sage alleviates muscle tension and spasms while promoting relaxation.
- Juniper oil. Juniper eases tension and eliminates muscle spasms.
For swelling relief only
Try one of these oils if you want to focus on relieving inflammation or swelling:
How to use your oils
Essential oils are potent. If they aren’t used properly, they can irritate your skin and actually add to your swelling. You can prevent this by diluting your essential oils with a carrier oil before application. Although carrier oils absorb some of the essential oil’s potency, they don’t interfere with its therapeutic properties. They simply reduce your risk for irritation.
A general rule of thumb is to use at least 6 teaspoons of carrier oil for every 15 drops of essential oil. Carrier oils include coconut oil, olive oil, argan oil, and more.
Roll on before or after a workout
Remember the roll-on lip glosses that you used when you were younger? Essential oils are often packaged the same way! Roll-on bottles are a great way to carry oils on the go and allow for mess-free application.
You can buy prepackaged roller ball bottles containing your oil or blend of choice online or at your local health store. You can also purchase empty roller bottles and fill them with your own oils.
To mix your own oil:
- Use a pipette or medicine dropper to add about 15 drops of your chosen essential oils.
- Fill the rest of the bottle full of your chosen carrier oil.
- Firmly press the roller ball top onto the bottle.
- Roll the bottle between your hands for 30 seconds or so to ensure that the carrier and essential oils mix.
- Apply as desired.
Use it for a massage
If topical application isn’t enough, consider using your oils to do a self-massage.
Not only can the oils penetrate deep below the skin to relieve pain, swelling, and tension, massage can help work out knots and quickly release tension. Just make sure you dilute your essential oils before application.
You can also book an aromatic massage from a certified therapist.
Add it to a relaxing bath
Bathing with essential oils is a lush and luxurious way to loosen up and soothe stiff muscles.
Your bath water will dilute the essential oil, so there’s no need to mix it with a carrier oil before use (unless you want to get the benefits from one of them, too). Simply add 10 to 12 drops of essential oil to the water flowing from your faucet, and allow the water to disperse before getting into the tub.
You can also add to the ambiance by lighting a scented candle or listening to some calming music.
Add it to a cold or warm compress
Compresses are known to relieve pain, inflammation, and swelling. You can boost these effects by adding your chosen essential oil to the fabric.
To make an essential oil compress:
- Fill your sink or a bowl with water. Cold water is typically used to soothe inflammation, and hot water is typically used to relieve pain.
- Add about 15 drops of essential oil to the water. The water will dilute your essential oil, so there’s no need to use a carrier oil, too.
- Submerge your towel until it’s completely wet with the mixture.
- Gently wring out the excess water and apply the towel to the affected area.
- Leave the towel on for about 15 minutes.
- Reapply as needed throughout the day.
Possible side effects and risks
You should always dilute essential oils before topical use. This can reduce your risk of irritation and other side effects.
You should also do a skin patch test before your first application to test for any potential allergic reactions.
To do this:
- Apply a small amount of diluted essential oil to the inside of your forearm.
- Cover the area with a bandage.
- Wait 24 hours to see if any irritation occurs. If you don’t experience any itching, swelling, or other adverse reaction, it should be safe to apply elsewhere.
Other things to keep in mind:
- You shouldn’t use essential oils if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
- You should never ingest essential oils orally. They should only be used topically.
The bottom line
Whether you’re using individual oils or a custom blend, it’s important to dilute your essential oils before use.
For topical application — like with a roller ball or as part of a massage — carrier oils are key. But if you want to add essential oils to your bath or to a compress, the water will take care of dilution for you.
And the sky’s the limit in terms of how you can use and combine these incredible oils. You can start with what we’ve outlined here, but feel free to experiment! Once you become accustomed with how the oils work, creating a blend may be as intuitive as knowing which clothes or perfume you prefer based on your mood.
Healthline and our partners may receive a portion of revenues if you make a purchase using a link above.