People frequently associate essential oils and aromatherapy with the types of massage provided solely for relaxation, such as at a spa. Although relaxation and spa treatments certainly have an important place in massage therapy, there is more to aromatherapy massage. For example, aromatherapy is being researched for its potential to benefit conditions such as anxiety, depression and cancer.
Even though essential oils from various plants have been used as part of traditional medicine for thousands of years, modern science has only recently begun to study their effects. In addition to research conducted in the realm of health care, other industries are also investigating essential oils, including the food, flavoring and cosmetics industries.
Anxiety, Depression and Aromatherapy Massage
One piece of research that garnered significant attention is the study “Effectiveness of Aromatherapy Massage in the Management of Anxiety and Depression in Patients With Cancer: A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial” (Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2007). In this study, 288 cancer patients with clinical anxiety or depression were referred to one of two programs of supportive care: one that included psychological support services, or one that included psychological support services and aromatherapy massage.
Researchers discovered somewhat conflicting results. Six weeks after the participants were randomized and assigned to the programs, those who received aromatherapy massage showed improvements in their levels of anxiety and depression. Later, at 10 weeks, there were no significant differences between the two groups.
The researchers concluded, “Aromatherapy massage does not appear to confer benefit on cancer patients’ anxiety and/or depression in the long term, but is associated with clinically important benefit up to two weeks after the intervention.”
While the measured results of the study failed to show long-term positive effects on patients’ anxiety or depression, the researchers did note what could be a self-perceived effect of aromatherapy on anxiety.
“Self-reported anxiety improved significantly more for patients receiving aromatherapy massage compared with those receiving usual care only at both six and 10 weeks,” the study’s authors said. This difference in self-reported improvement was not observed in participants who suffered from depression.
The Future of Aromatherapy Research
Additional studies have looked at aromatherapy massage and could serve as a foundation for future research into this modality.
Research indicates that aromatherapy massage reduces menopausal symptoms, relieves menstrual cramps, decreases anxiety in women with breast cancer, and improves sleep in advanced cancer patients, among other results.
Whether or not research ever proves how and why aromatherapy massage may benefit patients with particular conditions, massage practitioners understand, firsthand, the power of healing touch. When touch therapies are combined with aromatherapy, that healing power may be increased.