Women's Health: Aromatherapy for Menstruation & Menopause
November 8, 2017
Women's Health: Aromatherapy for Menstruation & Menopause
November 8, 2017
For female clients, going through menstruation or menopause can be a challenging time, both mentally and physically. Increasing scientific research is investigating to how different Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) approaches such as aromatherapy and massage can be useful for dealing with symptoms of both conditions, which can be quite severe, disrupting work, school and overall quality of life.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is caused by a change in hormones that occurs as a part of the menstruation cycle. PMS symptoms often fall into two categories: emotional and physical, and may affect clients in a variety of ways.1 Physical symptoms therapists should be aware of include stomach cramps, increased muscle pain, swelling in the hands or feet, and aching joints. Emotional symptoms can include irritability, increased feelings of depression or anxiety, sudden crying, mood swings and increased tension.1
This is where essential oils may provide additional therapeutic support. Within aromatherapy, essential oils have unique properties that may benefit physical, mental, emotional or spiritual needs. Traditionally, there are several essential oils that have been noted to be effective for both their effects on physical pain, and ability to stabilize emotions and help patients cope with hormonal imbalances.
Essential Oils for Menstruation
Essential oils are an important tool for any massage therapist, but can be particularly therapeutic for female clients who are dealing with reoccurring emotional and physical symptoms. Clary sage (Salvia Sclarea) essential oil is frequently used in aromatherapy for women dealing with menstrual pain. In a 2012 study, the effectiveness of aromatherapy massage was compared to acetaminophen in high school patients experiencing menstrual pain.2
Patients in the treatment group received an aromatherapy massage that utilized clary sage, geranium, ginger, marjoram, and cinnamon essential oils. Pain was measured at baseline and 24 hours after. Findings indicate that the aromatic massage was more effective at reducing pain than the control pain killer.2 The aroma of clary sage essential oil is also considered to be calming, and inhalation has been shown to decrease cortisol levels and blood pressure.3,4
Marjoram (Origanum majorana) essential oil has been traditionally used for its pain-relieving and muscle-relaxing effects. Aromatherapy studies have investigated its traditional use as a natural pain reliever, particularly for women with primary dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual cramps).5
In a randomized, double-blind clinical trial, 48 participants with primary dysmenorrhea received either a regular massage oil or one infused with essential oils designed to reduce pain. To examine their combined analgesic effects, researchers blended marjoram, lavender and clary sage essential oils with unscented cream. Patients self-massaged their lower abdomen each day during menstruation.5
Numerical data and self-reporting data indicated that the aromatic blend caused a significant decrease in the duration of pain. Researchers concluded that aromatherapy massage could help reduce the duration of and inconvenience of primary dysmenorrhea and the impact it has on patients' day-to-day life.5 Lavender, rose, and geranium essential oils are additional essential oils that have traditionally been used to promote relaxation, balance hormones and calm menstrual pain.
What is Menopause? Menopause is the time that signifies the end of a woman's menstruation cycle and ability to have a child. In the body, menopause is triggered by the decreased production of estrogen and progesterone. Menopause traditionally happens to women over 40, and is usually preceded by perimenopause, a transitional phase that can last up to four years. Menopause can also be brought on sooner by various conditions or cancer treatments.6,7
Aromatherapy Massage & Menopause
While hormone levels are fluctuating, several physiological and psychological changes occur as a result. Symptoms of menopause include trouble sleeping, irregular menstruation, cramping, hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, hormonal changes, increased feelings of sadness, anxiety or depression. Women going through perimenopause or menopause may experience emotional or physical symptoms for years.6,7 As demonstrated by the research by Taavoni, S.,et al., massage therapy has been shown to improve the psychological and somatic symptoms of menopause.8
In a 2012 randomized placebo-controlled study, 90 menopausal women were given a 30-minute aromatherapy massage or placebo massage for a four-week period. Researchers measured the severity of menopause symptoms before and after the intervention with the Menopause Rating Scale (MRS).9
Data suggested that while both massage and aromatherapy massage reduced symptoms, improvements were more prominent for women in the aromatherapy group. The study used a blended essential oil recipe that contained rose, lavender, rose geranium, and rosemary essential oils in a 4:2:1:1 ratio with a mix of almond and evening primrose oil.9
Signs of Menopause
While it's wonderful when you have an open line of communication with clients, this may not always be the case. Clients may not share with you that they are experiencing PMS symptoms or going through menopause. An experienced massage therapist should always be observant and pay attention to visual clues, which may include increased resistance or sensitivity in the stomach, pelvis or lower back regions. Adjusting technique and the essential oils used in these situations could provide additional relief for pain and stress.
Clients going through PMS or menopause also benefit from increased rest and relaxation. Insomnia is a common symptom of menopause that is estimated to effect 28-63 percent of postmenopausal women in Western countries.10 If you know or suspect your client is experiencing either, try to make a conscious effort to promote deep breathing and other relaxation techniques to help them get the most out of their massage experience.
- Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "What can I do about cramps and PMS?" plannedparenthood.org, 2017.
- Hur MH, et al. "Aromatherapy Massage on the Abdomen for Alleviating Menstrual Pain in High School Girls: A Preliminary Controlled Clinical Study." Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012;(2012):1-3.
- Seol GH, et al. "Randomized Controlled Trial for Salvia sclareaor Lavandula angustifolia: Differential Effects on Blood Pressure in Female Patients with Urinary Incontinence Undergoing Urodynamic Examination." The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2013;(19)7: 664-670.
- Lee KB, et al. "Changes in 5-hydroxytryptamine and Cortisol Plasma Levels in Menopausal Women After Inhalation of Clary Sage Oil." Phytotherapy Research, 2014;(28)12: 1897-1897.
- Ou MC, et al. "Pain relief assessment by aromatic essential oil massage on outpatients with primary dysmenorrhea: A randomized, double-blind clinical trial." Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research, 2012;(38)5: 817-822.
- National Institute on Aging. "Menopause." nia.nih.gov, 2017.
- Mayo Clinic. "Menopause." mayoclinic.org, 2017.
- Taavoni, S, et al. "2342 – Effect of massage therapy on menopausal symptoms: a randomized clinical trial study." European Psychiatry, 2013;(28)1.
- Darsareh F, et al. "Effect of aromatherapy massage on menopausal symptoms." Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society, 2012;(19)9: 995-999.
- Oliveira DS, et al. "Effect of therapeutic massage on insomnia and climacteric symptoms in postmenopausal women." Climacteric, 2011;(15)1: 21-29.