AROMATHERAPY FOR CHILDREN’S GROWING PAINS
‘About once a month my 4 year old son wakes in the night crying and complaining of pain in his knees. I usually rub and massage them for a while but it takes him a long time to get back to sleep with the discomfort and he ends up having a very disturbed night. Can you recommend any essential oils to use, either as a preventative measure or as an on the spot topical rub?’
Thank you, Kristine (Ottawa, ON, Canada)
Poor little guy! You know, over 30 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old, and then 8 and 12 years old, experience what is referred to as growing pains. Growing pains most commonly occur in ‘both legs, in the front of the thigh, the calf muscles, and muscles in the back of the knee’[i] As it is with your young son, the pains are usually felt more at night or in the evening around bedtime. ‘The pain is not felt every day and the intensity varies from one child to the next. Some children have severe pain at night that does wake them from sleep, while others do not.’[ii]
The good news is that, according to the Health Information section of the Mayo Clinic, ‘Growing pains aren’t a disease. In fact, the term ‘growing pains’ may be a misnomer because there’s no evidence that growth hurts. Still, growing pains are real for many kids. And it’s important to take your child’s complaints seriously.’[iii]
Healthychildren.org educates that, ‘Typical growth pains are not accompanied by tenderness or sensitivity, and the child should be reassured and calmed by your touch. Typical growing pains are a muscular ache, not a joint ache or inflammation. Excessive tenderness in the joints, or a painful reaction to even gentle touches, should prompt a visit to the pediatrician.’
The majority of references on how to naturally treat children’s growing pains suggest a warm bath before bed, gently massaging the painful or aching area, applying warmth to the affected area, and assisting the child with gentle stretching and flexing until the pain passes. Some children may feel better if they are simply held or cuddled but no matter the approach giving gentle reassurances that the pain will go away is important.
Most parents don’t need the results of scientific studies to know that caring touch can go a long way to comfort their child, but there are numerous studies (too many to cite here) that prove gentle massage can provide great comfort and relief to a distressed child. Add the therapeutic properties of specific, child-friendly quality essential oils and you have a loving, healing remedy to care for your child’s aches and pains.
We are reminded that all essential oils are very potent, concentrated, plant-derived semi-solids or liquids demanding the same respect one uses with medicine. If you have been following my articles you will know that SCT’s policies indicate caution about recommending aromatherapy recipes and suggestions without a full consultation. To this end, I am assuming that your son is a healthy young lad with no presenting issues other than the growing pains you have identified. Always, always seek the advice of a certified aromatherapy practitioner and talk to your child’s health care provider if you have any concerns at all about home-use aromatherapy.
The suggested essential oils to help your 4 year old son’s growing pains are the super child-friendly chamomile essential oils, Roman chamomile and German chamomile, the all purpose heal almost anything essential oil of Lavender, and Sweet marjoram a wonderful warming and analgesic essential oil. Be sure to use only quality essential oils (November 2009 Ask the Aromatherapist) and purchase the essential oils using their botanical names to ensure that you have the right type. The botanical names of the suggested oils are at the end of this article.
Unless otherwise directed, the essential oils must be diluted in a base or carrier oil before applying to your son’s skin. From the kitchen you can use cold-pressed, virgin olive oil, organic grapeseed or sunflower oil as carrier oils. You might consider purchasing or making a calendula-infused carrier oil which even on its own is known for its child-friendly, soothing and healing qualities.
Let’s blend …
In Aromatherapy for the Healthy Child, world renown aromatherapist Valerie Ann Worwood offers a recipe for growing pains –
- into 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of a carrier oil of your choice
- add 3 drops of Roman camomile essential oil
- and 2 drops of Sweet marjoram essential oil (2000, p148).
- How about making a blend that is aromatic and visually appealing?
- Add 1 drop of German chamomile essential oil
- and 4 drops of lavender essential oil i
- nto 1 tablespoon of grapeseed carrier oil.
- German chamomile contains a powerful deep blue colored anti-inflammatory agent called azulene, which colors the carrier oil into which it is added.
- I can imagine your son requesting the ‘blue oil’ to help his legs feel better.
Massage either of the blends into your son’s legs using gentle pressure with rhythmic upward stroking movements (toward heart). Use little to no pressure on the downward strokes. There is no set amount of time to do the massage. Each child is different. You and your son will figure out what length of time works best.
For a therapeutic bath, blend together
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of carrier oil,
- 3 drops of Lavender
- and 1 drop of Sweet marjoram.
- Into a 1/3 full tub of warm water dissolve 1/2 cup (120 ml) of epsom salts.
Have your son get into the tub before you add the essential oil blend. The oil will float on top of the water. Engage your son with dispersing the oil in the bath water and have him massage his aching legs with the oil that sticks to his hands. You might consider placing extra towels on the floor. Having a 4 year-old swish and swoosh a thimble-full of oil in a tub of water … no need to explain.
Applying heat or warmth to your son’s legs will increase blood flow and help to ease the sensation of pain. If you are concerned about using an electric heating pad or a hot water bottle, consider using a small damp hand towel or large facecloth. Immerse a clean hand towel into a sink or basin of very hot water into which 5 drops of quality, Lavender essential oil have been added. Wring the towel thoroughly, shape into a pad or compress and apply to the painful area. Leave the compress in place until the towel has reached room temperature. If you have a place where the towel can safely hang to dry in your son’s room, leave it behind, allowing the aroma of Lavender to fill his space.
If using a damp towel isn’t appealing, be creative and make a rice sock! It’s easy-peasy, uses items you are most likely to have on hand and you could engage your son in the making of it. Take a large sock, preferably cotton, and fill it with just enough uncooked, long-grain white rice to allow for a good drape over the painful area. Tie off the end of the sock tightly.
Heat the rice-filled sock in the microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes. Check the sock after 1 minute. The amount of time needed to heat the rice to an ideal temperature will depend on the size of the rice sock. Do not over heat! When the rice sock has reached the right temperature, you can apply 2 drops of Lavender essential oil to the sock before placing it across the painful area. You’ll get multiple uses from your rice sock before needing to replace the rice or wash the sock.
Here’s a fun idea to help your son through a particularly rough episode. It can also be used as a preventative step. Dr. Bram H Bernstein, head of rheumatology at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, offers ‘Go camping in the bedroom!’ He suggests keeping legs warm at night as a preventative measure for growing pains and one way to do this is to bundle small children in a sleeping bag. ‘The sleeping bag will keep your child’s legs warm, and he’ll probably enjoy it.’ So imagine a warm aromatic bath, followed by a gentle leg massage before putting on favorite pajamas, and then crawling into a sleeping bag that has been pre-warmed with a heating pad or your creative rice sock. It makes me want to be 4 all over again!
I hope that some of these suggestions resonate with you, Kristine. I wish you and your little guy my best wishes for a successful journey through the growing years. And if you do decide to go camping in the bedroom, Id love to hear how that goes!
The common and botanical names of suggested essential oils in alphabetical order:
German chamomile – Matricaria recutita or Matricaria chamomilla; Roman chamomile – Anthemis nobilis or Chamaemelum nobile; Lavender – Lavandula angustifolia; and, Sweet marjoram – Origanum majorana.
Barbara Power, Certified Aromatherapist