Faster Recovery From Sports Injuries And Workouts With Essential Oils

Posted on Wednesday 12 January 2011

Essential oils have long been used by athletic trainers and sports massage therapists to support the health and performance of their athletes. Aromatherapy massage is used both pre-and post workout and competition, to improve performance, speed recovery, and lessen chance of injury. Many ointments and lotions for sore muscles include essential oils and essential oil extracts (e.g. ‘Tiger Balm’, ‘Ben Gay’, etc). Modern medical aromatherapy literature describes the use of oils to even speed the healing of both chronic and acute injuries commonly seen in sport. Here is an overview of the many ways to use essential oils to keep any athlete interested in natural health and fitness performing their best.

Essential oils can promote the health and fitness of athletes in many ways, the most common being the pre- and post- exercise (or competition) massage. Long used by top athletes around the world, sports massage with essential oils plays an important part in warming up the muscles before exertion and removing lactic acid (thereby speeding recovery) after a hard effort. Massage formulas often these essential oils – Eucalyptus, for invigoration, circulation and opening airways; Lavender, with anti-inflammatory effects, relieves pain, relaxes spasms, and brings mental calm without sedation; Rosemary relieves pain, stimulates the mind and body, and has a warming effect on the muscles; Juniper Berry, used in the post-exercise formula, detoxifies and helps eliminate lactic acid from muscles; and Sweet Marjoram which helps relieve cramping in over-exerted muscles.

Blending your own massage formulas for pre and post exercise massages is simple – just between 10 and 30 drops total essential oils to each ounce of carrier oil (Sweet Almond, Grapeseed and Hazelnut are good choices). Generally, the more essential oil in a blend, the more stimulating it will be; lower concentrations of essential oil will be more relaxing. For pre-exercise, to warm and loosen the muscles, open the airways and awaken the mind, try eight drops Rosemary, four drops lavender and four drops Eucalyptus essential oils to each ounce of carrier oil Peppermint can be used in place of the Lavender if you’re really looking to ‘get going’ – though if you’re prone to anxiety before strenuous efforts, stick with the Lavender. Use light, quick invigorating massage strokes. For post-exercise, a little deeper massage can be performed with longer strokes toward the heart – this will assist removal of lactic acid and other metabolic waste products. Try eight drops Lavender, four drops Juniper Berry and four drops Sweet Marjoram, or, when the muscles are really over-exerted, try eight drops Eucalyptus, eight drops Peppermint and eight drops Ginger essential oil.

Aromatherapy oils can be used during pre and post exercise baths and showers as well, using the same oils and blends mentioned above. Oils can be added directly to bathwater (after the bath is filled) where they will be well-absorbed over the entire body. Before showers, essential oils can be applied undiluted to the body; this is particularly advised post-exertion to support the elimination of metabolic wastes. Try one drop each of Rosemary, Lemon and Eucalyptus. A massage oil blend as described earlier should be used after a shower or bath when the pores are open. Choose a stimulating or relaxing mix depending on your needs.

Sometimes the going gets a little more rough for all athletes; injuries such as sprains, strains and bruises are common in many sports. The most important prescription for any injury is rest, but most athletes, eager to maintain their hard-earned level of fitness, rarely heed this suggestion. Enter the healing support of essential oils. Many essential oils are powerful healers of skin, muscle and connective tissue. Several well-known oils have strong anti-inflammatory properties, and contain safe varieties of ‘ketones’ which signal the regeneration of tissue. On top of that, there’s the stress-relieving ‘aromatherapy’ aspect, which can further enhance the healing process in nearly all cases.

To treat bruises and strains, there is no match for the synergistic molecules making up Helichrysum Italicum essential oil. Helichrysum Italicum (also known as Everlasting oil), as noted by Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt in ‘Advanced Aromatherapy’ is “certainly one of the most astounding essential oils. Its very unique chemical composition along with the oil’s general ability to penetrate into tissue ad the circulatory system permit some spectacular treatments. Used for bruises, sprains, and twisted ankles – usually accompanied by swelling and subsequent hemorrhages – this oil proves to be practically a wonder cure.” The oil can be used ‘neat’ (undiluted) when immediate relief is needed, and can be diluted for subsequent, repeated applications. The oil is rare, and somewhat expensive, though there is no substitute for its healing properties. Diluting the oil in a carrier such as jojoba to a 10% concentration will not reducing its healing effects, and may even extend the oil a bit with less of it evaporating into the air. Apply the oil or mixture frequently to the affected area, alternating with short applications of ice in the early stages if necessary.

The most common of all sports injuries are the cuts and scrapes that athletes of all ages incur. A blend of two widely available and inexpensive essential oils provides a wonderful alternative to drug-store preparations for prevention of infection and soothing relief. Lavender, the oil that began the modern aromatherapy revolution through its wound healing effects, and Tea Tree, distilled from a plant long used by Australian natives for its healing properties, combine synergistically for these injuries. Simply keep on hand a bottle of these oils blended together in equal parts. Once a wound has been cleaned properly, apply directly to the wound and cover with a dressing (band-aid or other). If the blend is too intense for the little ones, just apply to the gauze portion of the dressing before covering the wound.

Other than the direct sports-related uses of essential oils, the overall health and fitness of any athlete should be supported for top performance. During periods of especially strenuous training or competition, athletes may be particularly susceptible to infectious illnesses – colds, flu and the like. Diffusing Eucalyptus, Thyme, Tea Tree and/or Lemon in your home can reduce the chance of illness, or the spread of colds. Niaouli essential oil, a relative of Eucalyptus, is also an excellent oil for supporting the immune system. The oil is recommended to be applied neat all over the body after showers for best absorption and effect (use 10-20 drops). A strong immune system goes a long way to keeping an athlete happy and in top form.

This is a brief overview of many common applications of aromatherapy for supporting the health, fitness and performance of any athlete. There are a great many essential oils available with similar properties that may work better for some individuals. Such is the nature of aromatherapy – if a particular aroma or oil is appealing, it will probably be helpful at that time; if the aroma is too intense or offensive, it may be over stimulating or otherwise incompatible with the body chemistry at that time. With a little research and experimentation, one can certainly find a place for the natural healing powers of essential oils in their sports and fitness program!

The author is a wellness director for Ananda Aromatherapy, found at www.anandaapothecary.com. Find more resources are available on aromatherapy and essential oil blends through the website.

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