Did you know that lower back pain is considered the leading cause of disability around the world?1 Still, this shows that the reality of how much surgical and pharmaceutical-dependent approaches actually help does not match public perceptions. Many have been led to believe that they’ll only find relief from expensive, complicated therapies, medications, or operations. But the truth is that these sometimes make back pain and its causes even worse—or are ineffective at helping it to begin with.
While many mainstream therapies are helpful, and no natural remedy is known to fully cure back pain, essential oils are shown to provide excellent, effective, affordable, and safe pain support and management at home—if the right ones are used, and used correctly. Read on to learn about essential oils for back pain, which kinds are the best to use, which are supported by science, and more.
What are the causes of back pain?
Someone with back pain could easily say “it’s just my back that hurts.” But, in reality, that could mean many different things. If you take a closer look at the anatomy of back pain, there are many possible sources or causes to why this back pain could be happening. The cause can also help you determine what may be the best way to find pain relief, naturally or clinically. Some of the causes could be:
- Muscular causes for back pain mean that there could be some overexertion, strain, inflammation, or even a muscular injury behind the pain you’re feeling. You may just have a “sore back” from overuse. Otherwise, your muscles may be weak from lack of exercise, or it could be due to wrong lifting approaches, movement, or poor posture. If pain symptoms tend to improve after a good night’s rest (or within a few months’ time), this may be a sign that your back pain is muscle-related or from a temporary injury.
- Your back pain may be a joint issue related directly to the spine or maybe even your hips. It could be arthritic, rheumatoid, or some other type of joint pain issue that is the cause—possibly related to ligaments or cartilage as well. Bulging, slipped, or ruptured disks are a common problem associated with back pain and which are skeletal in origin. Surgery, physical therapy, or certain prescription medications may directly solve the root of the problem.
- In some cases, back pain may be related solely to a nerve issue. If you have a slipped disk, for example, this makes your back pain a nerve-related problem as well, not just skeletal, since this part of your vertebrae is pinching or inflaming a nerve. Sciatica, though considered a back problem related to the spine, is actually a nerve problem (the sciatic nerve is affected). That said, there are other nerve-related causes for back pain such as fibromyalgia or multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disorder that affects the nerves.
- Back pain could also be related to energetic connections in the body, according to traditional Chinese medicine. An issue with the lungs, for example, could manifest as pain in certain parts of the spine.
Top risks for back pain problems
If you have back pain (or you’re worried about experiencing it), have you wondered what factors may lead to the problem? If you want to work on the potential causes for back pain to provide additional relief—or avoid the risk factors that could lead to back problems—here are some of the top risks for back pain problems to look out for.
- Excess weight
- Old age
- Manual labor occupations
- Arthritic disease
- Lack of exercise
- Excessive sitting
- Fallen arches
- Weak core muscles
- Poor mental health
Best essential oils for back pain
For some with the issue, essential oils for back pain may not provide relief. If this is you, you are better off following your doctor’s recommendations or prescriptions for managing the pain so you can continue to function.
However, if you are curious about the powers of natural remedies or if you think your back pain is manageable, or if nothing else is helping, here are some of the best types of essential oils for back pain you can try. These oils are supported by scientific research for their potential to help pain. And according to many experts, they may pose a greater benefit-to-risk ratio than mainstream approaches to pain such as NSAIDs, opiates, and more.
Note that many of these essential oils—especially clove and cayenne—are hot oils and should be heavily diluted in a carrier oil. Alternatively, you can mix them with a generous amount of lotion before applying to the painful areas.
This cooling natural remedy has been (and continues to be) the premier essential oil for the topical management of pain, especially muscular and nerve pain. Established as effective for relieving the pain of headaches or migraines, the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine dubs it the top candidate for managing back pain as well, thanks to its cooling, soothing, analgesic pain-relieving effects from its active ingredient, menthol.2
Wintergreen is named as another powerful natural ingredient for topical back pain relief, especially in essential oil form. In the Journal’s review of natural pain-relievers for back pain (and in other studies as well), wintergreen is highly recommended to be used for relieving back pain—especially with peppermint oil.3 It is observed that these two enhance the effects of the other as they both contain menthol compounds. Similar to peppermint, wintergreen has a cooling, soothing pain-stopping effect.
You may be most familiar with the pain-relieving powers of clove from dental work. Clove’s active ingredient, eugenol, has a warming and “numbing” effect that many dentists use on their patients during cleanings or other work. It’s also found in over-the-counter oral numbing agents for canker sores, gum pain, and more. This numbing, pain-relieving effect can certainly be utilized for helping with back pain. One study showed that topical massage with clove essential oil, greatly diluted in a carrier massage oil, helped with lower back pain in new mothers.4
Cannabis for various physical and mental therapies is having its spotlight moment right now. Both the CBD and THC in the plant and its oils can help with pain relief when applied topically. A review of cannabis for lower back pain showed that in addition to doctor’s recommendations and therapies, cannabis (including in the form of essential oil topically used) could be a great adjunct pain-supporter.5
Rather than diluting in a carrier oil, cannabis is typically more effective when combined with a lotion or oil-based balm.
Cayenne pepper and its active ingredient, capsaicin, is one of the leading and most effective natural topical remedies for nerve pain, including nerve pain related to the back (like sciatica), according to studies.6
Cayenne pepper essential oil (or capsaicin creams) work to stop pain by temporarily destroying nerve endings, stopping pain signals from being sent to the brain.7 For this reason (and because long-term frequent use hasn’t been documented) it’s best to use cayenne occasionally and only for the worst episodes of pain. Cayenne is a very hot oil, so be cautious and dilute well!
Ginger is one of the best botanicals for inflammatory pain. This can include back pain as well. One intriguing study showed that a ginger compress—an easy-to-create home remedy that could be possible with ginger essential oils—helped relieve both neck and back pain better than a placebo.8
3 essential oil blends for back pain
Herbs and essential oils work better together than alone. Here are some recommended blends of essential oils for back pain.
Cooling pain support blend – peppermint and wintergreen
This cooling blend can help with pain related to inflamed muscles and nerve pain to some extent.
Warming pain support blend – cayenne and ginger
This blend can be especially effective for nerve pain, along with inflammation. Make sure to dilute more heavily for cayenne/capsaicin content.
Deep pain support blend – cannabis and clove
This pain blend can be applied for deep back pain caused by the bones or joints. It can also be effective for other pain types, too. Clove oil needs more dilution than cannabis, so balance the dilution accordingly.
Try essential oils for back pain relief
Relief for your back pain doesn’t need to be dependent upon medication painkillers, pharmaceuticals, or other therapies that could make your back pain worse. Science shows that for simply managing pain and discomfort, essential oils for back pain can be an equally valuable approach to management, but with less of the side effects or risks.
About Adrian White
Adrian White is a certified herbalist, organic farmer, and health, food, and agriculture freelance writer—and upcoming author. She is a past contributor to Healthline with bylines in The Guardian, Civil Eats, and Good Housekeeping. Adrian is also the co-owner and operator of Jupiter Ridge LLC, an organic farm growing diverse vegetables, mushrooms and herbs.
1. O’Sullivan, P.B., J.P. Caneiro, et al. “Back to basics: 10 facts every person should know about back pain.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 54, no. 12 (2020): 698-699.
2. Hebert, P.R., E.J. Barice, and C.H. Hennekens. “Treatment of Low Back Pain: The Potential Clinical and Public Health Benefits of Topical Herbal Remedies.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 20, no. 4 (2013): 219-220.
3. Murphy, B.J., R.E. Carlson, et al. “Determining the authenticity of methyl salicylate in Gaultheria procumbens L. and Betula lenta L. essential oils using isotope ratio mass spectrometry.” Journal of Essential Oil Research 33, no. 5 (2021).
4. Vijaitha, N.V. “Effectiveness of Clove oil massage on Lower Back Pain among Post Natal Mothers at Selected Hospitals, Bangalore.” Asian Journal of Nursing Education and Research 5, no. 4 (2015): 467-470.
5. Senderovich, H., H. Wagman, et al. “The Effectiveness of Cannabis and Cannabis Derivatives in Treating Lower Back Pain in the Aged Population: A Systematic Review.” Gerontology 68, no. 6 (2022): 612-624.
6. Predel, H.G., C. Ebel-Bitoun, et al. “Efficacy and Safety of Diclofenac + Capsaicin Gel in Patients with Acute Back/Neck Pain: A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Study.” Pain and Therapy 9 (2020): 279-296.
7. Kennedy, W.R., G.F. Vanhove, et al. “Nerve ending shrivel away from topical capsaicin.” PainScience (2019).
8. Lem, H.W., and A.C. Lee. “The effectiveness of ginger compress on non-specific low back pain.” Journal of Fundamental and Applied Sciences 9, no. 68 (2017).