Aromatherapy offers non-pharmaceutical option for patients’ pain relief

June 30, 2021  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,
Two clear bottles of essential oils surrounded by pink flowers.

Can something as common as peppermint relieve nausea after chemotherapy?

Would something as simple as a pleasant scent calm down a frightened child before a stressful surgery or procedure?

Could aromatherapy improve the overall patient experience?

Yes, yes and yes!

National studies — as well as patient surveys and poster research projects at Michigan Medicine — have shown that aromatherapy, which uses oils extracted from natural plants, can promote well-being and healing in patients experiencing pain, anxiety and much more.

Armed with this information, the Rewrite the Script Team, a group of physicians, nurses, therapists and volunteers dedicated to improving pain management and reducing opioid harm, along with other clinicians passionate about integrative health, have made aromatherapy available to our patients.

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Rethinking our approach to pain

“In health care, it’s common practice to ask a patient to rate their pain on a number scale, and then based on the number, give them a designated medicine to help with their pain,” said Katie Barwig, R.N., lead of the non-pharm working group. “There are better ways to understand and treat a patient’s pain — and research shows that many non-pharmalogic options, such as aromatherapy, can be very effective. Our culture needs to shift so that we routinely offer non-pharm options in conjunction with medications to help improve the patient’s pain.   

“Pain is a unique experience that impacts each patient differently,” Barwig added. “Considering a patient’s whole self — mind, body and spirit — promotes a healing environment by using comprehensive and integrative methods. Offering aromatherapy and other non-pharmacological interventions helps to support the patient’s own self-care and offers alternatives that they might not have experienced before.”

How it works

Nurses at Michigan Medicine can use aromatherapy to help their patients manage their chronic or acute pain.

As of mid-May, all inpatient units, emergency departments and PACUs have lavender and peppermint inhalers and lotion added to their stockrooms. Units may request citrus and ginger be added to their PAR carts, as well, by reaching out to Material Services. Ambulatory care settings need to work with Material Services to have aromatherapy products stocked.

In addition to aromatherapy, the Rewrite the Script Team will also be introducing other non-pharmacological resources for pain management. Watch for other Headlines articles in the future.