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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

Aromatherapy in Sports Medicine Practice With Elite Athletes

Ancient documents and archaeological evidence convince us that aromatherapy was developed over 5,000 years ago in ancient Egypt. Its utilization was first recorded by Herodotus around 425 BC. The Greek historian described the use of distillation to extract essential oils from plant-based materials. Later, during the Middle Ages, the pharmaceutical properties of certain aromatic plants were exploited against infectious diseases such as the plague. In the First World War, René-Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist, used aromatic plants to treat soldiers’ wounds. Since then, aromatherapy has been utilized to ease aches and pains, heal injuries, manage stress and anxiety as well as depression, and restore well-being through relaxation, sedation, and stimulation (Cook & Ernst, 2000; Leach, 2004; Motomura, Sakurai, & Yotsuya, 2001).

Patients today—including 30% of Americans with chronic back pain—are interested in trying alternative therapeutic options (Eisenberg, 1998; Sherman et al., 2004). Most cancer patients utilize complementary alternative medicine (CAM), which includes aromatherapy, auricular acupuncture, therapeutic touch, and hypnosis. These have been observed to help with management of cancer pain and to boost the immune system (Mansky & Wallerstedt, 2006). CAM therapies have been taking on an increasingly important role in the control of symptoms associated with cancer and cancer treatment (Cassileth et al., 2007). Furthermore, aromatherapy has been introduced in clinical sports medicine. Many athletic trainers and sports physiotherapists use aromatherapy to enhance athletes’ fitness for competition and to shorten recovery time during training.

While epidemiological and laboratory evidence shows regular exercise to protect the body against development and progression of many chronic diseases, intense physical activities can sometimes carry a risk of serious musculoskeletal injury. Elite athletes, especially, are vulnerable to such injury during highly intense competition and when they overtrain (Gunduz, Senturk, Kuru, Aktekin, & Ktekin, 2003). Treating sports injury in elite athletes is currently an important topic in sports medicine. Aromatherapy in conjunction with other therapies offers noninvasive, safe alleviation of physiological and psychological stresses resulting from elite athletes’ sports injuries.

Through advances in medical research we have learned that stressors from daily life can do psychological and physiological harm to the body, making it vulnerable to injury. Advances in aromatherapy, fortunately, promise to make it an even more viable avenue for elite athletes’ recovery from injury and for their health and wellness generally. Technical chemistry, including analysis of essential oils, as well as pharmacochemistry and clinical treatment are making strides. In the future, therapeutic and performance applications for aromatherapy with elite athletes should continue to be explored.


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