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Nationally Registered Chiropractor and Osteopath

What is Aromatherapy & Aromatherapy Massage?

Article by Dr Peter Richard Pedersen

 

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is a branch of herbal medicine that uses the medicinal properties of the essential oils of plants and herbs. The use of plant essential oils dates back to the ancient times in Egypt, Italy, India, and China. French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse coined the term aromatherapy in 1937, when he witnessed first-hand the healing power of lavender oil on healing skin burns.

Today, aromatherapy is widely practiced in North America and Europe. It is often integrated into holistic treatments, and is used in spa treatments and products such as candles, massage oil, and other relaxation products.

The essential oils used in aromatherapy are plant volatile oils from the flowers, leaves, stems, buds, branches, or roots that have been extracted using steam distillation, water and stem distillation or cold-pressing. 

How Aromatherapy Works

Essential oils can affect almost every organ system in the body. Each essential oil has a unique pharmacological effect, such as anti-bacterial, antiviral, diuretic, vasodilator, tranquilizing, and adrenal stimulating. 

When an essential oil is inhaled, the molecules enter the nasal cavity and stimulate the limbic system in the brain. The libic system is a region that influences emotions and memories and is directly linked to the adrenals, pituitary gland, the hypothalamus, the parts of the body that regulate heart rate, blood pressure, stress, memory, hormone balance, and breathing. This makes the effects of essential oils immediate in bringing about emotional and physiological balance.

NOTE: Essential oils can be toxic when taken internally so they should only be taken orally under the guidance of a qualified professional.

Conditions Treated by Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy can be used for a variety of health conditions, such as allergies, stress, bruises, burns, diarrhea, earache, prementrual syndrome (PMS), energy, insect bites, relaxation, poor digestion, headache, menopause, insomnia, nausea, bronchitis, colds, flu, sinusitis, sprains, wounds, shingles (herpes zoster), muscle and joint pain, arthritis, nervousenss, restlessness, and scars.

Home Treatments Using Aromatherapy

Essential oils can be used at home by inhalation or topical application. Steam inhalation is often used for respiratory conditions. Steam inhalation involves adding 2-3 drops of essential oil of eucalyptus, roosemary, tea tree, or other oil to hot water and holding the face over the pot with a towel draped to form a tent. A few drops of essential oils can also be added to baths, compresses, or massage oils.

Definition: Aromatherrapy

A concentrated oil containing aromatic compounds from a plant. Essential oils are responsible for the scent of the plant and are most often found in the flowers and leaves. The scents are thought to have therapeutic properties.

Essential oils are used in aromatherapy, massage therapy and in other alternative therapies. They're available in small vials in health food stores and online, and can also be found in products such as soaps, lotions, bath salts and candles. Essential oils evaporate easily into the air, which is why they're also called volatile oils.

Essential oils shouldn't be confused with essential fatty acids, which are edible oils that are a necessary part of our diets.

Also Known As: Aromatherapy essential oils, volatile oils

Examples:
Some of the more popular essential oils include lavender essential oil, tea tree essential oil, and eucalyptus essential oil.

What is Aromatherapy Massage?

Aromatherapy massage is massage therapy but with highly concentrated plant oils, called essential oils, added to the massage oil or lotion. 

How does aromatherapy massage work?

The nostrils are attached to a part of the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system controls emotions and influences the nervous system and hormones. When you inhale essential oil molecules, messages are transmitted to the limbic system and affect heart rate, stress level, blood pressure, breathing, memory, digestion, and the immune system.

Essential oils are also believed to be absorbed through the skin.

Each essential oil has different healing properties. For example, some calm while others energize.

Here are some widely used essential oils and their properties:

  • Calming – chamomile, lavender, geranium 

  • Uplifting – ylang ylang, clary sage, rose, neroli

  • Energizing – rosemary

  • Cleansing – rosemary

  • Decongesting – eucalyptus, pine, tea tree

Why do people get aromatherapy massage?

Aromatherapy massage is particularly suited to conditions involving stress or improving emotionally-related conditions.

  • Stress and stress-related conditions such as insomnia
  • Headache
  • Digestive disorders
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Back pain

Here is a few examples of the research that is being done on aromatherapy massage:

  • Self-massage significantly improved symptoms and wellbeing in people with lymphedema. It also slightly, but not significantly reduced limb volume. However, carefully chosen aromatherapy oils did not appear to be more effective than massage without aromatherapy oils. 

  • Sixteen first-time mothers received a 30-minute aromatherapy massage two days after delivery, while 20 mothers received standard post-partum care. The aromatherapy massage group had significantly decreased ratings of post-partum blues and anxiety and had increased vigor and attachment to their babies.

  • Research suggests that patients with cancer, particularly in the palliative care setting, are increasingly using aromatherapy and massage.

What can I expect during an aromatherapy massage?

After the consultation, one or more essential oils are selected based on what you need and are mixed in with the massage oil or lotion. 

The subtle aroma of the essential oils fill the air around you during the massage. 

After the massage, the massage therapist may suggest a blend that you can use at home in between massage treatments. 

Precautions

Massage is not recommended for certain people:

  • infectious skin disease, rash, or open wounds
  • immediately after surgery
  • immediately after chemotherapy or radiation, unless recommended by your doctor
  • prone to blood clots. There is a risk of blood clots being dislodged. If you have heart disease, check with your doctor before having a massage
  • pregnant women should check with their doctor first if they are considering getting a massage. Massage in pregnant women should be done by massage therapists who are certified in pregnancy massage.
  • massage should not be done directly over bruises, inflamed skin, unhealed wounds, tumors, abdominal hernia, or areas of recent fractures.

Additional tips

  • don’t eat a heavy meal before the massage
  • if it's your first time at the clinic, arrive at least 10 minutes early to complete the necessary forms. Otherwise, arrive 5 minutes early so you can have a few minutes to rest and relax before starting the massage. 

For more information, click Swedish Massage

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