Aromatherapy massage is Swedish massage therapy using massage oil or lotion that contains essential oils (highly concentrated plant oils).
During an aromatherapy massage, you inhale these essential oil molecules or absorb them through your skin. They are thought to promote beneficial changes in your mind and body by affecting the limbic system, a region of the brain known to influence the nervous system.
Why Do People Get Aromatherapy Massage?
Each essential oil used in aromatherapy is said to have different properties. For example, some calm and make you feel relaxed while others energize.
Here are some widely used essential oils and their purported properties:
Calming: chamomile, lavender, and geranium oil
Uplifting: ylang-ylang, clary sage, rose, and neroli oil
Energizing: rosemary oil
Decongesting: eucalyptus, pine, and tea tree oil
Since aromatherapy massage techniques are often the same as those used in Swedish massage (the most common type of massage in the US), people often get it for sore back, neck, and/or shoulder muscles or to ease stress.
Use of therapeutic essential oils in massage is being explored for the following conditions:
Supportive care for people with conditions such as cancer
Aromatherapy massage appears to reduce the pain and discomfort of menstrual cramps, a 2015 study from the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology suggests. Participants did a self-massage with rose essential oil, an unscented almond oil, or no oil on the first day of menstruation for two menstrual cycles. By the second cycle, aromatherapy massage reduced the severity of pain compared to massage therapy with almond oil.
Massage with aromatherapy may also ease menopausal symptoms. In a 2012 study published in Menopause, researchers compared 30-minute aromatherapy massage (twice a week for four weeks) to massage with plain oil or no treatment and found that both massage and aromatherapy massage were effective in reducing menopausal symptoms (with aromatherapy massage being more effective than massage only).
Other research suggests that aromatherapy massage may not relieve symptoms in people with cancer. For a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2016, for instance, researchers analyzed previously published studies and concluded that “this review demonstrated no differences in effects of massage on depression, mood disturbance, psychological distress, nausea, fatigue, physical symptom distress, or quality of life when compared with no massage.
When comparing aromatherapy massage with no massage, they found that “there was some indication of benefit in the aromatherapy-massage group but this benefit is unlikely to translate into clinical benefit.
What to Expect During an Aromatherapy Massage
Although you can find aromatherapy massage at almost every massage clinic or spa, the style of treatment, degree of customization, and the quality of essential oils varies widely.
Many massage therapists have one or more premixed blends and will select the blend based on your health concerns. A massage for relaxation and stress relief would likely include lavender essential oil, while an uplifting massage may include rosemary essential oil. Your therapist may involve you in the selection process by asking you to smell various blends.
Some massage therapists may add essential oils to massage oil immediately before each massage based on your unique condition or health goals.
The quality of the essential oils varies widely. Essential oils are different from oils made with synthetic scents which don’t have therapeutic effects. Massage therapists who are highly knowledgeable about aromatherapy tend to use quality essential oils in their massage oils.
Once the massage oil is selected, the therapist leaves the room so you can disrobe and lie on the massage table.
You will usually be asked to lie face down under a sheet. When the massage therapist begins the massage, you may notice the subtle aroma of essential oils.
After the massage, the massage therapist may suggest a blend that you can use at home in between massage treatments.
Tips to Make the Most of Your Massage:
Avoid eating a meal right before a massage.
If it’s your first time at the clinic or spa, arrive early so you can complete the necessary forms. Otherwise, you may want to give yourself some time to rest and relax before starting the massage.
A licensed massage therapist should take your health history before the massage.
Essential oils may cause an allergic skin reaction. Essential oils are highly potent and can be absorbed through the skin, so it’s important to avoid excessive use of aromatherapy oils and to only use oils that have been properly diluted by a carrier oil. If you’re sensitive to scents, aromatherapy may not be right for you.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, check with your doctor to see if this type of massage is safe for you. If it is, your doctor may also be able to recommend a licensed massage therapist who is certified in pregnancy massage.
Massage shouldn’t be done directly over bruises, skin rashes, inflamed or weak skin, unhealed wounds, tumors, abdominal hernia, or fractures. If a massage is painful, tell your massage therapist immediately.
Aromatherapy with essential oil-scented massage oils and lotions may help to ease stress and anxiety. If you’re considering trying aromatherapy massage, it’s a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider first to discuss whether it’s appropriate for you.
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