Paralyzing. Painful. Attention Grabbing. Welcome to the not so wonderful world of cramps.
Leg cramps. Muscle spasms. Stomach cramps. Tension. Back cramps. Menstrual cramps. They come on quick and can prevent you from finishing whatever you’re doing in the moment, or even take you out for the whole day!
Nobody Has Time for Cramps
But unfortunately, they still occur time to time.
Today we’re going to look at what causes cramps and what you can do to prevent getting cramps in the first place. After that, I’ll provide you with some helpful, holistic solutions using essential oils to recover from cramps when they do strike.
Here’s What You’ll Learn
By the end of this article, you will have a solid foundation of what to do, what not to do and how to care for your body by reducing the number of cramps you experience and decreasing your recovery time after suffering a cramp attack.
Most importantly, we’ll cover what essential oils you need to help with cramping.
In order cover all of this in detail, we’ll start from the beginning.
A Simple Definition: What Is a Cramp?
Very simply put, a cramp is an involuntary muscle contraction. The Mayo Clinic provides this description of what a muscle cramp is and some of their generic causes.
“A muscle cramp is a sudden and involuntary contraction of one or more of your muscles.”
If you find yourself doing a lot of strenuous work one day, or exercising a significant amount (especially if it’s out in the hot sun), these conditions can lead to an unexpected muscle cramp.
Types of Cramps You Might Experience
Here are just a few types of common cramps that people experience at one point or another. You might’ve experienced some of these yourself.
Leg Cramps and Muscle Cramps (Spasms)
Leg cramps and muscle cramps can be caused by any number of reasons. They can come about from sitting too much, exercising without stretching, or even from a condition such as plantar fasciitis in the foot. All of these can cause your muscles to involuntarily contract to the point of bringing you to your knees.
These cramps range from mildly annoying to incapacitation for days for some women. While treating these cramps with over-the-counter anti-inflammatories is an option
You may hear me mention water once or twice throughout, but this is only because it is that important.
Preventing Cramps Before They Occur
What could we be doing to prevent getting cramps in the first place? Two things that are neglected far too often is drinking water and having proper food with
Drinking More Water Makes a Difference
A lack of water, or dehydration, can make it extremely difficult for our bodies to function properly, safely, and comfortably.
If you start with the basics like monitoring your water intake, you can prevent cramps, or at the very least, reduce their frequency and intensity.
The Importance of Nutrition and Eating Right
Another preventative source is our nutrition. We need to make sure we’re having the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables in order for our bodies to function at an optimal, peak level.
If we aren’t getting what we need nutritionally, our bodies will let us know one way or the other.
The Mayo Clinic states, “Insufficient intake of potassium, magnesium or calcium can contribute to leg cramps.”
While is specifically states leg cramps, a lack of minerals in any muscle is going to lead to muscular protest.
First things first, check your water intake and keep a food diary for three days to see what your vitamin and mineral intake is. Based on your findings, determine whether or not vitamin supplements might be something to look into.
The Solution to Cramps is Muscle Relaxation
You’ve drunk half your body weight in water, you’re eating all the fruits and veggies you can find, and maybe you’ve even started supplementing your diet with vitamins and minerals.
… and then you get a cramp.
Cramps are relieved when they can relax.
Here’s How We Get Our Muscles to Relax
First, we start with what science and research says, which to be honest since essential oils are not regulated by the FDA, science provides studies suggesting certain oils have been shown to reduce pain and healing time.
According to Healthline (based on three separate studies) lavender has been shown to reduce pain and inflammation with migraines, tonsillectomies, and “when diluted lavender essential oil was applied topically during one test, it provided pain relief comparable to that of the prescription medication tramadol. This suggests that lavender could be used to help treat pain and any associated inflammation.”
If you have ever taken any over-the-counter medications or prescription medications for cramps or pain in general, you are aware of the side effects they come with. Again, no time for those — no thank you!
The Wonderful World of Cramp Relief Using Essential Oils
There are multiple other studies suggesting the use of Wintergreen, Marjoram, Basil, Peppermint, and Douglas Fir as oils that have also been shown to reduce inflammation.
Most reputable essential oil distributors such as DoTERRA and Young Living have developed oil blends with varying combinations of the oils listed above (some have additional oils outside of the ones listed) to specifically address inflammation.
Personally, I have experienced the blends to be most effective in use as well as cost, but we will go into that a little
Lavender Oil: A Therapeutic Relaxer
The first oil on our list is Lavender.
According to the Natural Medicine Journal and licensed naturopath Dr. Jeremy Appleton, “The relaxing experience of lavender fragrance led to its deliberate, therapeutic use in aromatherapy to relieve mild anxiety. Lavender has been also used internally for mood imbalances such as anxiety, insomnia, and gastrointestinal distress, including “nervous stomach.”
And relaxing is exactly what we are trying to get our muscle(s) to do. Often times when we can get our minds to relax, the body will follow suit.
Peppermint, Wintergreen, and Eucalyptus Oils as ‘Runners-Up’
Peppermint, wintergreen, and eucalyptus
I put all of these under number two as it is not so much a discussion about effectiveness as it is about your ownpersonal preference of these smells. Another consideration is tolerance of each of these oils on the skin.
In essence, each of these oils has an “icy-hot” sensation that provides soothing warmth which encourages relaxation. They also provides the cool sensation of ice to help with calming the pain.
- Wintergreen is the most popular of the minty oils for cramps as its primary properties are analgesic, antirheumatic, antiarthritic, antispasmodic, antiseptic, aromatic and astringent. All of which are anti-inflammatory properties.
- Peppermint is one of the more common and affordable of these oils providing antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, insecticidal, antispasmodic and carminative properties. Peppermint is typically the strongest of the three and should be used with caution when applying to the skin. Most people prefer to dilute it using a carrier oil rather than direct application.
- Eucalyptus is one of the less popular of the oils due to the smell. Most people either love it or hate. It is also more commonly used for inflammation caused by illness rather than muscle cramps but has shown effective for both. Its properties include anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, decongestant, deodorant, disinfectant, antiseptic, antibacterial, and insecticidal
- Marjoram has quite a different scent than it’s refreshing minty cousins. It smells more along the lines of oregano, earthy, woodsy scent but it is mild and not has “hot” or intense as oregano oil. Many people do not use marjoram simply because it reminds them of spaghetti. But much like judging a book by its cover, do not judge an essential oil (or its effectiveness) by its smell. Marjoram has sedative properties, which like lavender, is relaxing and antispasmodic, helping to relieve cramps upon application.
- Chamomile – Both Roman and German chamomile tea have been found to be effective in helping cramps. Most people are familiar with drinking chamomile as it has soothing properties. It also includes glycine, a chemical found to relieve muscle spasms.
Chamomile is often used much like lavender is — to relax. The majority of the research out there that I came across refers to the use of chamomile for menstrual cramps. DoTERRA has a blend called ‘Calmer’, that combines chamomile and lavender in a roller bottle.
It is important to note how much emotional stress you are under, as this has a direct effect on how your body responds to everyday activities.
DIY Cramp Relief With Essential Oils
There are three main ways to introduce essential oils to your body:
Diffusing (Aromatherapy) to Get Rid of Cramps
Let’s talk about diffusing. I would never recommend you NOT diffuse your oils for any reason, but I am also keenly aware that the world of essential oils can be a costly venture. Personally, I am all about getting the most out of every drop of my oils.
Diffusing is the most direct way to use your oils in relieving that darn Charlie horse or cramps, but I would still say
On the flip side of that coin, diffusing your oils may do wonders for bringing your mind back to a place of calm. When the mind relaxes the body follows suit, even if ever so slightly.
And when talking about cramps, relief is the goal!
Down the Hatch? Taking Essential Oils Orally
Taking essential oils orally is absolutely an option if you go about it with safety in mind.
*Before taking any supplement, always consult your doctor for possible medication interaction as well as if you are pregnant, nursing or are elderly. Orally ingesting essential oils is not recommend for children under the age of six. Always check with a doctor first.
If taking oils orally is an option you would like to explore, there are options.
Lavender comes in a vegetable capsule form as does marjoram and chamomile. Taking the oils in teas such a chamomile tea infused with lavender is something you can try.
From a personal standpoint, I am not a fan taking essential oils orally as I am just not a fan of taking anything. I have found that for me, the oils work best when diffused and topically applied, but EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT! This is a personal preference for you to decide what is best for you and your lifestyle.
Topical Rub Down – Massage Those Cramps Out!
Most often people opt for topical application as it has almost instant effects and the risk of a reaction is slim. Not only that, but muscle cramps are easy to get to and release with massage.
There are several options you have when it comes to topical application:
- Directly placing the oil on the skin
- Using a blend already created by a reputable essential oil distributor.
- Making your own rub at home.
A Note About Different Oils on the Skin
If you are applying essential oils directly on the skin, do so with caution. If you are new to essential oils, always do a SMALL patch test to see how your skin reacts.
It is also not the best use of your oils. You will end up using way more than necessary as a few drops of the concentrated oil will not spread as far on the skin not covering the entire effected area. In short, don’t waste your oils.
Side note: Personally, I will apply peppermint oil directly to my temples and my neck when dealing with tension and headaches, but never for cramps.
DIY Rubs For Cramps That You Can Make at Home
Creating your own rub is fairly simple and straight forward.
If you are new to making your own oil, start by making very small amounts until you find what seems to work best for you. Don’t be afraid to try combining oils that work best for you.
Use Carrier Oils for Creating Cramp-Releasing Blends
The purpose of carrier oils is to dilute highly concentrated essential oils into a form more manageable by your body, and less likely to cause irritation.
The carrier oil that you use is a personal preference. In all of my rubs, I use coconut oil for a few reasons:
It isn’t as thick as olive oil or as pricey as almond and avocado oil can be. I also prefer the very light scent, its low melting point (as well as quick solidification), and not to mention it’s easier on the wallet than pure jojoba oil. It is also fairly neutral on the allergic reaction front.
Just as with the patch test for direct oil application, if you are not sure how you might react to the carrier oil you choose, yep, you guessed it, patch test!
I want to note that the DIY blend for leg cramps (shown below) works great for any sore muscles you may be experiencing.
DIY Essential Oil Rub for Leg Cramps
An additional oil that I add to my rub is magnesium oil. It can be found at your local health food store. Just a couple of drops should do the trick. Allow it to
DIY Essential Oil Rub for Menstrual Cramps
Rub for menstrual cramps – Most of us have had the life sucking experience of menstrual cramps for at least a day or two. Every. Single. Month. Let’s give ourselves a break every month by doing something loving for ourselves.
Start with your jar and your carrier oil of choice. I take two tablespoons of coconut oil, two to three drops of Magnesium Oil, Roman Chamomile, Lavender, and Wintergreen. You can add Marjoram for additional support in reducing the inflammation if the scent is agreeable to you.
*If you are making the oil for children or the elderly, start with less and add as necessary. Their skin and olfactory systems are more sensitive and may not be able to tolerate the high intensity of the scent and the heat.
You Can’t Go Wrong With These Proven Essential Oil Blends
Essential oil blends are my personal favorite — here’s why.
First of all, the work is already done for you.
It can also prove to be more cost-effective to buy a blend vs buying all of the oils independentl. If you do not have a ton of oils in stock at home, purchasing all of the oils in the blends can get quite costly, very quickly.
Within blends are around four to five (sometimes six) different oils. If you are a mad scientist and want to experiment, I absolutely encourage you to create something that works for you.
As a single, working mother training for a fitness competition, this is a place where I am okay with someone else doing the heavy lifting for me and saving me the time. Not to mention, I’m stingy when it comes to using my oils. I don’t like to waste a drop!
Ortho Ease has peppermint, wintergreen, and marjoram in it. The eight-ounce bottle is already diluted for you and comes with a pump. It is pretty strong on the scent front and lasts for quite a while. I use one-half of a pump for both of my hips, and one-half of a pipette (approximately) for my shoulders.
I put it on at night and wear a sweatshirt to keep the heat in. It feels like a natural heating pad without the drying effects of an actual heating pad.
Deep Blue is an essential oil blend from DoTERRA. It contains wintergreen, camphor, peppermint, ylang-ylang, helichrysum, blue tansy, blue chamomile, and osmanthus all of which have properties to cool and soothe. This comes in a concentrated 5 mL bottle and does require dilution. However, because it needs to be diluted in a carrier oil, it allows you to make your rub as mild or as strong as you prefer.
According to the DoTERRA website, along with recommendations from several of my oil aficionado colleagues, Deep Blue is magic when it comes to growing pains for your kiddos!
Remember and Never Forget: Relaxation is the Key to Beating Cramps!
Whew! That was a lot to take in and process, right?!
Here are a few key things to remember when dealing with cramps:
- Check your nutrition. Drink half your body weight in water every day. Eat things full of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Did I mention water? Pay particular attention if menstrual cramps are the beast you are attempting to slay. Caffeine, sugar, and salt all make them way worse as does dehydration. Yes, again with the water!
- Assess the type of cramps you are addressing. Most cramps can be addressed with a mint of your choice and lavender but some oils are more helpful than others for treating certain types of cramps.
- Make your own, or buy your own. Decide what works best for your lifestyle!
- RELAX! Aside from a nutritional deficit, times of the month, or physical activity, if you are stressed you are increasing your cramping occurrences tenfold. If worse comes to
worse, inhale a little lavender, focus on your breathing for three minutes and go from there. You’ll be amazed what a little extra air can do for your body!