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Case Study: Reducing Symptoms of Arthritis in the Feet Using Massage with Essential Oil Blend

by Susan Lorrimer(more info)

listed in aromatherapy, originally published in issue 201 - December 2012

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an auto-immune disease characterised by inflammation of the synovial tissues resulting in joint pain, swelling and stiffness. There is no cure for the condition but symptoms can be relieved by orthodox medicine combined with self-help advice and physiotherapy exercises ( ). Separate research studies into the benefits of massage and the use of essential oils to reduce the symptoms of arthritis have given encouraging results. Hand arthritis pain is reduced by massage therapy[1] and effects of aromatherapy upon pain, depression and life satisfaction in arthritic patients.[2]

Massage with selected essential oils could potentially reduce the symptoms of RA and may even provide additional benefits of an emotional and psychological nature. The indications for massage with essential oil blend are non-invasive with low toxicity thus minimizing undesirable side effects. Positive results from a research trial could provide patients with a new treatment option and give them some control over their disease - patients or their carer could be shown massage techniques with essential oil blend to practice at home for self-management of their symptoms.

The 6-week case study below, undertaken in July 2012 by the author, shows a reduction in the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis using massage with an essential oil blend.

Foot Massage


E is a 52 year old woman who has rheumatoid arthritis in her feet, knees and hands. She also suffers from diabetes and has had a double heart bypass. She is a smoker, her diet is reasonably healthy but she takes minimal exercise.

The arthritis in her feet causes E the most severe symptoms and she experiences disturbed sleep, including pins and needles during the night. E also experiences daytime pins and needles, pain, swelling, fatigue, restricted movement and stiffness in the feet and toes. Her right foot is worse, possibly due to a vein being removed from her right leg for the heart bypass.

Foot Massage


E will receive 2 x 20 minute foot massages per week with a carrier oil containing an essential oil blend. The aim is to reduce the symptoms of arthritis in her feet. The expectation is that the massage will help to increase circulation and increase movement in the feet including the joints of the toes and ankles. The essential oils in the blend all have properties which should reduce the symptoms of arthritis:

Eucalyptus:            Anti-inflammatory, improves circulation, rubefacient

Marjoram:            Improves circulation, analgesic, rubefacient

Rosemary:            Analgesic, improves circulation, rubefacient

Juniper:            Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, detoxifying, rubfacient

Lavender:            Analgesic, anti-inflammatory


During the first 3 weeks E experienced a reduction in the pins and needles in her feet. She found that her feet are less painful and her toes bend a little more. E is sleeping better. The symptoms continued to become less severe than they were before the case study over the following 3 weeks. E found the massage very relaxing. She experienced pins and needles in her feet every day and night before the case study began; during the 6 weeks of treatment she only experienced pins and needles 3 times in total. The stiffness in E’s toes has reduced dramatically


Severity (S)

Frequency (F)

(1) Pre case study

(2) Post 6-week case study


Fatigue                 0  ___________________________5_________________________  10   (1)


                                     0  ________________3____________________________________  10   (2)



Pain –                         0  ________________________________6_____________________ 10   (1)


Sleep (F&S)              0  ___1__________________________________________________ 10   (2)


Pain                            0  ______________________________________________8_______ 10  (1)


                           0  ____________________________5_________________________ 10  (2)


Stiffness                   0  ______________________________________________________ 10  (1)

in toes (S)

                           0  __1___________________________________________________ 10  (2)


Movement                0  _____________________________5________________________  10  (1)


(S)                              0  ________2_____________________________________________  10  (2)


Pins and                   0  ______________________________________________________  10  (1)

Needles (F)

                          0  ________2_____________________________________________  10  (2)


Swelling                   0  ________2_____________________________________________  10  (1)

In R. foot

(S)                             0  ________2_____________________________________________  10  (2) 

Conclusions and Recommendations

The results show that twice weekly 20-minute foot massage with essential oil blend is very effective for reducing the symptoms of arthritis in the feet. The results of the VAS scale show that the symptoms have all reduced, three symptoms having reduced dramatically. The swelling in the right foot remained unchanged - this may be due to the fact that the swelling may not originate in arthritis but in the lack of circulation due to the removal of the vein in the leg.

A few questions arise from this case study. Was the combined massage and essential oil blend responsible for the reduction in symptoms? Could only one of the factors have been responsible for the improvement - either massage alone or the oil blend alone?

I would recommend a research trial to follow on from this case study to further investigate these results. The research would include the effectiveness of massage alone; massage with essential oil blend; client mobility exercises with essential oil blend.

For E’s follow up treatment I have recommended that she applies the essential oil blend and practices mobility exercises for the feet twice a week for the next 6 weeks. The mobility exercises would replace the massage and allow E manage the symptoms herself with the essential oil blend provided.


1. Tiffany Field, Miguel Diego, Maria Hernandez-Reif, Jean Shea. Department of Paediatrics, Touch Research Institute, University of Miami, School of Medicine. Hand arthritis pain is reduced by massage therapy. 2006.

2. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe.  The effects of aromatherapy on pain, depression and life satisfaction in arthritic patients. Chi 35(1): 186-94. Feb 2005.


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About Susan Lorrimer

Susan Lorrimer, Founder and Operator of Sumay, is a qualified holistic therapist and Thai massage practitioner with over 10 years’ experience in her field and is one of the region’s leading complementary therapists. Susan studied holistic therapies in the North East and at the “Old Medicine Hospital” in Chiang Mai, Thailand, considered to be one of the world’s leading schools for healing massage, massage therapy, massage theory and therapeutic relationships.

Sue created Sumay to bring the benefits of a holistic therapy to a wider audience, helping organizations in both the private, public and third sectors to deliver workforce well-being and health interventions. Sue provides various corporate in-house workshops and is also available for providing holistic therapy training for private or public health care providers. Susan may be contacted via Mob: 07854 092303; 

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