Essential oils can be used in conjunction with other treatments to address the pain and inflammation associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.
But what exactly is carpal tunnel? How do essential oils help treat carpal tunnel syndrome? And how do you pick and use the proper essential oils effectively?
In this post we will address all these questions to find out how you can start your journey towards healing carpal tunnel syndrome with essential oils.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is defined by pressure on the eye of the hand, or more technically, the median nerve.
The median nerve is one of three large nerves found in your forearm and hand, and damage to it can even cause partial paralysis in the area.
The median nerve is responsible for feeling in your fingers (besides your pinky finger and half of your ring finger, which get their sensations from a different nerve).
Carpal tunnel syndrome is defined by a narrowing of the area where this nerve runs (between your bones and ligaments), which results in swelling.
Swelling increases pressure and compression, which result in various symptoms, including numbness, tingling, pain that travels up the arm, persistent wrist pain, and weakness in the hand.
You may also feel like your hand is “falling asleep” with a tingling sensation, or like you “slept on it wrong”. According to Americare Physical Therapy, up to nearly 5% of the general public is affected by carpal tunnel syndrome, and women are three times more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than men.
Fun Fact: Carpal tunnel syndrome is called carpal tunnel syndrome because the median nerve can be referred to as the carpal tunnel.
How Do You Get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
As we discussed, the symptoms you experience result from increased swelling and pressure on the median nerve.
The root cause of the swelling is often linked to a separate condition, like diabetes, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, trauma, or thyroid irregularities.
However, you can also get carpal tunnel from repetitive motions such as typing on a keyboard, playing videogames, knitting, using power tools, or from playing the piano or another instrument.
Most people notice carpal tunnel syndrome for the first time while they are asleep. You may wake up in the middle of the night with the need to shake out your arm. It is also most commonly displayed in your dominant hand, though it can occur in both.
If you, like many others, have found yourself working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be experiencing carpal tunnel from increased time spent at the computer.
This may be especially true if you work on the couch or bed, where improper posture makes you more prone to unnaturally bending your wrists.
How Can You Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The typical medical routes for addressing carpal tunnel include wrist splints, avoiding overuse, pain medicine, treatment of other conditions, like diabetes, and steroid injections targeted at the site to reduce inflammation.
However, if these steps do not fix the problem, surgery may be recommended by doctors, in which the tissue around the median nerve is severed to alleviate pressure on the nerve.
There is another way to treat carpal tunnel that you may not have considered. Read on to see how essential oils can play a critical role in reducing the inflammation associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are having a moment in mainstream culture because they contain an astounding array of healing qualities. However, they have been used since as early as 600 B.C. and are traditionally used to treat a wide variety of ailments.
There is a reason why an incredible 40% of modern prescription medicine comes from plant extract or plant compounds1! In fact, this bares some exploration. Why are plants such a miraculous source of healing medicine?
Well, the answer goes back to the theory of natural selection, in which traits that promote survival are passed down from generation to generation.
The ability of plants to create natural protection from microbes and pests through the use of natural substances increases their survival, so plants are naturally chalk-full of healing qualities that protect them from predators.
This also explains why peppermint oil makes the perfect natural remedy for keeping mice and other pests out of your home and garden!
Essential oils contain plant extracts, which are concentrated through distillation or mechanical extraction.
As a result, essential oils harness the concentrated healing powers that plants natural have. Some of the properties harnessed in essential oils include analgesic, anti-allergenic, anti-anemic, anti-anxiety, anti-arthritic, anti-bacterial, anti-catarrhal, anti-coagulant, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-seborrheic, anti-septic, vasoconstrictors, vasodilators, and many more properties2.
Essential oils can be a natural way to improve your health and can be used in conjunction with medical treatment to cure or alleviate various ailments and infections.
Carpal Tunnel and Essential Oils
Essential oils are an obvious choice when it comes to treating carpal tunnel syndrome. Since carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by inflammation resulting in pressure on your median nerve, essential oils with anti-inflammatory properties are a great treatment option.
In this way, essential oils can be used to directly target inflammation that causes the painful symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Antinociceptive properties of some essential oils can also reduce the hyperactivity of the nerve firing that results in discomfort.
So, the proper use of essential oils for carpal tunnel syndrome can target both the cause of your symptoms, and the symptoms themselves.
Choosing the Right Essential Oils for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Not all essential oils serve the exact same function. Some are rejuvenating and awakening, while some are calming and relaxing.
Some essential oils constrict blood flow (vasoconstrictors), while others increase blood flow (vasodilators).
While all essential oils have healthy applications, it is important to recognize that some are better than others at addressing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Essential oils come from different plants, and therefor their properties are reflective of the plants they come from.
Let’s review a few of the essential oils that are the most beneficial in the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender has been found in many scientific studies to have anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive properties. Antinociceptive properties reduce pain detection in the body, and anti-inflammatory properties reduce the inflammation that causes carpal tunnel syndrome.
Therefore, there is obvious potential for the use of lavender essential oil as a treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome. In a study of 48 individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome, significant loss of syndrome severity and significant increase in hand dexterity were found in individuals using a lavender essential oil treatment3.
Lavender essential oil is also beneficial for aiding in high sleep quality. Since carpal tunnel syndrome is known to disrupt your sleep, it is possible that the use of lavender essential oil will help you fall and stay soundly asleep.
Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint essential oil has analgesic properties, which has a cooling and pain-relieving effect on the skin.
If you have been suffering from some of the most common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, including numbness and tingling, then you need to give peppermint essential oil treatment a try.
On top of the pain-relieving properties, peppermint essential oil has anti-inflammatory properties, like lavender oil, that treats the cause of your symptoms.
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Tea tree essential oil is another great pain-relieving essential oil for carpal tunnel syndrome. The bioactive compounds present in it result in both its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial qualities.
Tea tree is well-regarded for its ability to temporarily alleviate pain associated with hand and wrist numbness, including those caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. However, since tea tree oil is potent, you need to be sure to dilute it quite a bit.
Lavender Essential Oil
Peppermint Essential Oil
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Ginger Essential Oil
Ginger essential oil also has anti-inflammatory properties, which will directly address the cause of your painful symptoms. Plus, it smells great, and improves both circulation and digestion.
Ginger essential oil also helps in regulating serotonin and therefor addresses the physical symptoms that may accompany stress.
Since carpal tunnel syndrome is common in individuals who are overworked, ginger essential oil will help in both relieving stress as well as inflammation.
Basil Essential Oil
Basil essential oil is commonly used to sooth aches and pains associated with muscle inflammation.
In some studies, basil has even been shown to have anti-cancer properties, along with anti-microbial properties4.
The anti-inflammatory properties of basil can be used to reduce the risk of heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
It works by inhibiting enzymes that promote inflammation in the body, which makes it a very effective treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome.
Energy Essential Oil
The Energy Essential Oil carried by Vivorific Health is a blend of oils. It contains peppermint, lemon peel, rosemary, and eucalyptus essential oils and is 100% pure, natural, vegan, and free of chemicals.
When applied at a diluted ratio of 1 drop of essential oil blend to 19 drops of a neutral carrier oil or lotion, you will be benefited in multiple ways.
The peppermint oil will provide cooling analgesic properties, as well as anti-inflammatory properties.
Lemon essential oil is both anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial.
Rosemary essential oil reduces joint and tissue inflammation, and eucalyptus essential oil is also anti-inflammatory.
This blend of essential oils creates the ultimate powerhouse of both anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, while also providing you with the skin cleaning and clearing properties provided by lemon peel essential oil.
Ginger Essential Oil
Basil Essential Oil
Energy Essential Oil
How to Use Essential Oils to Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There are a lot of ways to apply essential oils. They can be used directly on the skin if they are appropriately diluted in a carrier oil, massaged into the skin, used in a soothing bath, in a spray bottle, or used effectively in an essential oil room diffuser.
To use lavender, tea tree, energy, ginger, basil, or peppermint essential oil for direct skin application, try following these instructions:
1.) Mix up to half of a teaspoon of pure, organic essential oil with one tablespoon of a neutral oil or lotion (you may want to dilute a little further for tea tree oil). You can get creative with the carrier oil/lotion.
You may find you enjoy using jojoba oil, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, safflower oil, almond oil, shea butter, an unscented lotion, or avocado oil.
We just recommend that the scent of the oil does not compete with the scent of the essential oil (for example, it would be a poor choice to use sesame oil here), and that you use high quality oil. Look for cold-pressed, organic, and kosher oils.
2.) Apply to your hand, wrist, and arm, and massage for several minutes. Massage gently, as vigorous rubbing could aggravate the inflamed skin.
3.) After applying the essential oil, you should rest your arm in a neutral position. That means, no typing, texting, or knitting, for example. During this time, you may find it relaxing to use your lavender essential oil in a room diffuser to gain the maximal benefits that the oil has to offer.
4.) This method can be repeated several times a day. Remember not to apply the concentrated essential oil directly to your skin without first diluting it in a carrier oil or lotion as this is likely too concentrated for your skin. If a rash appears, discontinue use.
Essential oils make a great addition to any carpal tunnel treatment plan. Remember that carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by an underlying condition, so it is important to check with a doctor to diagnose this syndrome before you start treating it at home.
In addition to using essential oils to help with healing carpal tunnel syndrome, it is important to eat a wide variety of whole foods with anti-inflammatory properties.
Remember to eat lots of vitamin rich food and leafy greens, while avoiding highly processed foods and excess meat and salt.
If you follow this advice, you can make a full recovery from carpal tunnel syndrome, and you may also find your general mental and physical wellbeing improves drastically throughout the course of essential oil treatment too!
3. Journal of Hand Therapy, Volume 31, Number 4, October/December 2018, pp 437-442.
Authors: Bina Eftekharsadat MD, Peyman Roomizadeh MD, Shervin Torabi MD, Fariba Heshmati-Afshar MD, Fatemah Jahanjoo MD, Arash Babaei-Ghazani MD.
4. Kathirvel P, Ravi S. Chemical composition of the essential oil from basil (Ocimum basilicum Linn.) and its in vitro cytotoxicity against HeLa and HEp-2 human cancer cell lines and NIH 3T3 mouse embryonic fibroblasts. Nat Prod Res. 2012;26(12):1112-8. doi:10.1080/14786419.2010.545357