Essential Oils for Runners: The Top 5 for Sore Muscles & More

While we all know the tremendous health benefits of running (free stress relief and weight management, anyone?), and the best runners make their daily jogs look downright effortless, the truth is that running isn’t easy. Ongoing aches and pains are one of the primary complaints of regular runners, but it is possible to soothe those sore muscles and treat injuries the natural way—with essential oils.

Two young people running in a city

Why is natural pain relief so important? Studies have actually shown that taking some over-the-counter painkillers can make those running pains worse and can actually slow the healing of your muscles and ligaments, so you’ll be feeling subpar for longer.

Why Essential Oils?

You might only associate essential oils with making your house smell nice, but they are also powerful healing agents. Essential oils are created by extracting the oils directly from the bark, flower, fruit, leaf, seed or root of a plant or tree. That oil is then distilled to create a super-concentrated formula that can improve physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. In fact, essential oils have been used for over 5,000 years to improve digestion, heal skin conditions, ease cold and flu symptoms, and more.
There are multiple ways you can use essential oils, but for runners, there are two ways that are most useful:
First, you can mix essential oils with a carrier oil like coconut or almond oil, and then apply them directly to your skin, where they’re absorbed by the bloodstream and circulated to different parts of the body, providing therapy from the inside out. This is possible because essential oils are composed of very small molecules that can easily penetrate your cells.
Second, essential oils can also be added to an essential oils/aromatherapy diffuser, allowing the oils to enter your body through inhalation.
No matter which route you choose, however, aromatherapy and topical application are both perfectly safe and inexpensive ways to treat running pains without popping meds.

Mint Oil for Sore Muscles

The 5 Best Essential Oils for Runners

So now that you know how to use essential oils, let’s look at five that provide the most benefit for regular runners.

1. Peppermint

Not just for candy canes, peppermint is terrific at treating pain. It’s actually a natural painkiller and muscle relaxer, which comes in handy after particularly grueling runs. I like using peppermint oil to ease back pains, sore muscles, or even tension headaches.
You can spot treat pain with peppermint oil; just dab a few drops wherever it hurts. You can also apply peppermint oil with a carrier oil to ease distribution and absorption. If you want something a little more intense, or have frequent muscle pain, this homemade muscle rub, made with coconut oil and beeswax, will do the trick. And it makes enough to last for about 30 applications.

2. Frankincense

This powerful oil is just what your inflamed muscles and tendons need to relieve the pain. Using frankincense encourages circulation, as it acts as an anti-inflammatory. It also helps to ease the muscle aches that come with clocking miles.
To get the most out of frankincense, mix with a carrier oil and rub it into inflamed areas, like your muscles, joints, neck or feet, and give yourself a little massage. If you’re planning on soaking in a hot bath, it’s also great to add a few drops of frankincense to the water and let it sink into your skin that way.

3. Lemon

Lemon is one of the most popular essential oils, thanks to its incredible versatility. It’s frequently used for its powerful antimicrobial properties, but it’s really useful for runners, too. Adding a few drops of lemon oil to a glass of water is one of my favorite ways to use it, and it’s a super convenient and affordable way to get your daily dose of benefit-rich lemon water.
If you often find yourself with tummy troubles when running, drinking water with lemon oils before or during your run can help. The combination improves digestion and relieves upset stomachs while quenching your thirst. As an added bonus, if you’re running as a way to lose weight, lemon oil can also boost your metabolism—meaning all that time hitting the pavement won’t be in vain.

Essential Oils for Runners

4. Oregano

You’re probably most familiar with oregano as a pizza seasoning, but it makes for a potent essential oil, too. Oregano is famous for its ability to fight bacteria, fungal infections and inflammation. So if you have a case of athlete’s foot or a nasty toenail fungus after spending hours in sweaty sneakers, it’s oregano oil to the rescue.
If you’re using oregano oil for an infected toenail, add a drop or two directly on the nail and massage in. If it’s for athlete’s foot, you can do the same or mix it with a carrier oil. Best of all, once your infection has cleared up, continuing to use oregano oil can help prevent it from recurring.

5. Cypress

You may not have heard of cypress oil (which comes from the evergreen cypress tree), but it’s amazing for runners who regularly struggle with cramps and muscle pulls. That’s because cypress oil is an antispasmodic, which means it can relieve involuntary muscle spasms. Applying it to aching muscles will not only reduce any spasms you may have, but also increase blood circulation to the muscle and reduce any associated pain.
If you have cramping or inflammation, cypress can also help by reducing fluid retention and improving circulation. And if you’ve got lactic acid buildup that’s causing you grief, cypress oil’s diuretic properties can help to clear it up.

So, what do you say? Are you now intrigued by this approach to recovery? Leave us a comment below and let us know your favorite essential oil.


Dr. Josh Axe Josh is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, and author. He specializes in how the right nutrition has a positive influence on people's health. View all posts by Dr. Josh Axe