and Debbie Guzzi

Aromatherapy and Massage Treatment for Migraine Headaches, MASSAGE MagazineHeadache, a common malady, has many causes. According to the National Headache Foundation, more than 45 million Americans experience chronic, recurring headaches, with 29.5 million Americans suffering from migraines annually. There are 150 different categories of headaches. The diagnosis of headaches, and the pain that occurs alongside it, can be treated in various ways.

Neurologists believe migraines are an inherited hypersensitivity in the brain to certain sights, sounds, smells and other cues. A chiropractor may find one disc slipping on another, and may suggest an adjustment to ward off the headache. The allergist relates the onset of headache to the digestion of a troublesome food or scent. The orthopedist may think a degenerative disc in your neck is what is causing your headache. The ophthalmologist thinks your eyes need attention. The ear-nose-throat doctor is convinced it is sinusitis.

The massage therapist suggests it is muscle tension in the neck, head and shoulder girdle. The Eastern healer believes headaches are caused by chi stagnation and should be addressed by diet, acupuncture and shiatsu or Thai massage to alleviate imbalanced energy in the gallbladder and spleen meridians.

Traditional Chinese medicine orientation views migraine headaches as caused by liver qi stagnation. The liver is overactive and it affects the spleen and stomach. This results in a disrupted thinking process and nausea in the stomach. The spleen is where thinking is processed and the stomach is where digestion takes place; thus, these organs’ qi are stagnated and discomfort is experienced.

Any number of the above causes can be in play, and any number of the above courses of treatment may help. All fields do agree, however, that exercise, diet and maintaining a consistent routine help.

Massage treatment

Massage is helpful in addressing migraine headaches. If you can receive massage therapy quick enough, you can avoid hours, perhaps days, of discomfort. Massage can relieve the muscular tension caused by stress or the pain itself.

A head, neck and shoulder massage using stretching, strumming, resist-release, kneading and circular friction at the attachment points works well. The acupressure point for GB 20 [gallbladder], which is suboccipital, often brings immediate relief.

Relieve pain by releasing the body’s natural pain relievers known as endorphins. Hot or cold packs can be applied to the base of the skull to calm the vacillation between dilation and constriction of blood vessels. Cold numbs and constricts, while heat opens vessels and soothes the muscles and nerves. Tension headaches respond best to heat.


Using aromatherapy with essential oils in a hot or cold pack can also be used as a preventive measure during a headache. When performing Swedish massage, essential oils can be added to the massage oil, carrier oil or used full strength by applying 1 drop of all the essential oils as a blend and massaging the temples, base of skull and along the hairline, as needed, at the first sign of an arising headache or during headache. This treatment can be used up to three times a day as needed.

How to make and use hot and cold compresses

There are many ways to make a hot and cold compress. If you’re at home, one way is to use a sock. A sock with rice in it may be heated in the microwave with water in a cup to add humidity; then, a few drops of the essential oil mix can be dropped on the rice. The rice sock can also be put in the freezer, and the essential oils dropped on before use.

Lie on your back with the hot or cold pack at the base of your skull for 15 to 20 minutes at a time; do not have direct contact with skin. Remove, and allow skin to return to normal temperature.

Essential oil blend

Mix these essential oils together to make a blend that will harmonize and regulate the liver and decrease anxiety, therefore calming the mind.

  • Chamomile Roman (Anthemis nobilis): Cooling, regulates the liver to decrease nausea, anger, clears heat, calms the mind. Use 5 drops.
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): Cooling, promotes smooth flow of liver qi, decreases headaches and calms the mind. Use 3 drops.
  • Lemon (Citrus limonum): Cooling but drying, clears liver and stomach fire. Use 3 drops.
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita): Cooling, refreshing, improves concentration and is a stomach aid. Use 5 drops.
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): Warming, improves circulation and prevents dizziness. Use 1 drop.

Make a supply by mixing together all the essential oils with 4 teaspoons of carrier oil, such as jojoba, sweet almond or apricot kernel oil.

Jacqueline Bloom is a licensed clinical social worker with more than 20 years of experience, and maintains a private practice in New York and Connecticut. She teaches certification courses on aromatherapy with the East West School of Aromatic and Herbal Studies. Also, she incorporates aromatherapy applications of essential oils in psychotherapy, when appropriate with clients, as an adjunct to primary treatment for emotional issues, stress-related problems, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and mood disorders. She is certified in Chinese Medicine: 5 Elemental Treatment Theory with Gems and Stones, and medical aromatherapy and dietary therapy. She can be contacted at

Deborah Guzzi is a graduate of the Connecticut School for Massage Therapy. She supplemented her training in Swedish massage with classes in chakra balancing, and polarity therapy, as well as Master Level Usui Reiki. She can be contacted or through