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Essential Oils for Complementary Treatment of Surgical Patients

Surgical patients are at risk of developing pain, depression, cognitive decline and post-traumatic stress disorder. The use of analgesics during surgical procedures is common practice, however the effectiveness is limited because of concerns about adverse effects. Complementary therapies have begun to be investigated as possible alternatives for treating surgical pain, but there has been an incomplete understanding of the safety and feasibility of these treatments. Essential oils are potential candidates for complementary therapies for managing post-operative pain because they have anti-inflammatory, antinociceptive and antioxidant properties.

The use of essential oils (EOs) for complementary treatment of surgical patients has increased since the 1990’s. A variety of EOs are available commercially, so it is important to understand what effects they potentially have on surgical recovery and patient care. Oils with stimulating or uplifting properties, such as peppermint, eucalyptus, and spearmint, are proposed to increase body awareness and improve focus both in the preoperative and postoperative period. However, oils with antiseptic properties (e.g., tea tree oil) promote infection control during patient care while calming scents (e.g., lavender) may be used for pain management.

There are several essential oils that can be used in complementary treatment of surgical patients. In addition to the wide variety of pathological conditions that require surgery, a further problem is raised by reduced immune response and infection after anesthesia and surgery. Essential oils have been shown to restore immune function, reduce post-surgical adhesion formation, pain and inflammation with few side effects.

Why aromatherapy is showing up in hospital surgical units.

It is becoming quite common in some hospitals to see patients receiving aromatherapy treatment. Aromatherapy has been used successfully in Europe for several years, and is now becoming more widely used here in the U.S. The use of essential oils during surgery provides patient with a sense of confidence, which also helps reduce their anxiety when facing surgery. This ritual also allows time for patient and family members to gather in a relaxing atmosphere, where they can enjoy the pleasant fragrance, and perhaps spend some enjoyable moments of togetherness. Aromatherapy is used pre-, peri- and post-operatively; it is also beneficial at bedside of patients who may not be able to receive a massage.

Surgical patients can feel tremendous anxiety, and often not knowing what to expect from surgery is a major source of terror. Aromatherapy provides a sense of security. The use of essential oils in the operating suite creates a calm and relaxing atmosphere for everyone; it also reduces the amount of anesthetic agents needed during surgery since essential oils work as a natural anesthetic.

Hospitals face many concerns today such as quality care, cost containment and meeting government regulations. Hospitals are using aromatherapy to help increase patient satisfaction and meet the triple aim of improving healthcare quality, reducing hospital stays and reducing health care costs. Aromatherapy can also be beneficial by allowing caregivers to spend time with patients and their families instead of spending that time running to and from various areas in the hospital. Using aromatherapy also reduces the need for pharmaceutical drugs, which can help increase quality care by reducing any potential drug interactions between essential oils and medication.

What essential oil is good for after surgery?

Using essential oils for complementary treatment is a great therapeutic option. There are so many oils to choose from, it can be a bit daunting, but a few of our favorites for post-surgery include Lavender, Peppermint & Arnica Oils – Helping Soothe Sore Muscles + Relieving Pain.

Oils that are quickly absorbed through the skin's surface can be applied neat, undiluted, on the surgical site.

Lavender and peppermint essential oil have a long history of use as a topical analgesic, an agent that relieves pain without inducing loss of consciousness.

These oils work because they contain constituents such as linalool, a terpene with local anesthetic properties, and menthol, which temporarily desensitizes nerves to pain by blocking the nerve conduction velocity.

Arnica oil is another great option for treating both bruising (from surgery) and sore muscles. It is very rich in sesquiterpene lactones, which are responsible for its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects.

How to apply what essential oil is good for after surgery?

As for diluting essential oils , 1-2% is a good place to start – this means you would use 1-2 drops of essential oil per teaspoon (5ml) if adding it to a product such as a cream or carrier oil . Just ensure there aren't any additional ingredients that could irritate the skin.

You can even use an ice pack with some lavender or peppermint essential oils diluted in water for extra relief. Or you can purchase / make a soothing, soft compress that can be chilled and applied to the surgical site.

How can I add these oils to my daily routine?

Lavender oil: add a drop or two of this oil to your pillow when you go to sleep; it will calm you and help you sleep better. You can also use 2 Life Health Lavender Sleep Pillow Spray, an all natural sleep pillow spray that is great for both adults and children.

Peppermint oil: add a drop to your shampoo or conditioner for an invigorating scalp massage while showering. It will ease the discomfort and pain of bruises. This will not only help relieve sore muscles, but also leaves the hair smelling fresh and clean!

Arnica oil: apply 1-2 drops on the area of your body where you have bruising after surgery.


If your hospital allows it, carry a few essential oil samples with you so that you can apply the oils as soon as the surgical site is accessible. Bring a small roller bottle and place a drop or two of essential oil on a carrier oil such as sweet almond oil . This way, they are allowed to be taken into the surgery suite and can be applied as soon as it is appropriate. We suggest you tell your doctor about any essential oil treatments that you are using, just to ensure there isn't a reaction with any medications being taken, but most doctors we have discussed this with are very supportive of aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy should not replace medication prescribed by your doctor. Essential oils are not meant to cure an ailment, they are meant to complement the body's natural ability to heal itself.


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