Aromatherapy for Migraines


Aromatherapy for Migraines

adapted from an article by Maeve

Migraine in its various forms affects an estimated 20% of the world's population. Migraine is a neuro-vascular reaction in response to sudden changes in the internal or external environment. The mechanism for the headache seems to be first a vasoconstriction -- a narrowing of the blood vessels created by some electrical-chemical disturbance -- followed by dilation or enlargement of the blood vessels at the base of the brain, which leads to a headache. Depending on the severity of an attack, it is apparent that most, if not all, of the body systems can be affected. Some of the effects of migraine include headaches, an observable hazy aura, sensitivity to light, sounds and smells, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, trembling, cold sweats and unsteadiness.

While there are many types of migraines, these are generally categorized into two groups: classic and common. The classic migraine begins with an aura or other type of visual, sensory or motor warning, and is followed by headache -- throbbing and unilateral. It is worsened by bright light, relieved by sleep, and associated with nausea and occasionally vomiting. In the common migraine, the aura is absent. The headache has similar features to the classic migraine but is often poorly localized and its description may merge with that of a `tension' headache.


Migraine has been found to affect women more than men. In a survey of almost 1500 people in 1977, unilateral headaches with migrainous features were experienced by women more than men in the ration of 3:2. The triggers for migraine can be varied and include stress, hormonal changes, climate, trauma, hereditary factors, alcohol and (some believe) food. Mental or physical stress is by far the commonest precipitating factor. Emotional stress is a strong precipitant; in 50% of a random sample of patients, migraine began the first time ever during an emotionally charged period. About 60% of women who suffer migraines report that at least some of their attacks are linked to their menstrual cycles. The migraines usually occur just before or during menstruation. The decline of plasma estradiol appears to be the important trigger factor, however oral administration of estrogen replacements has been found to be generally ineffectual in warding off attacks.

Many migraine patients complain that the weather may provoke an attack, particularly an approaching thunderstorm or hot dry winds. High altitude is another factor mentioned in studies, with a significant history of migraine reported among airline crews. Other triggering stimuli include traumas to the head, glare or flickering lights, and certain noises or scents. Alcohol, particularly red wine, is well known as another trigger factor. All alcohol is a dilator of blood vessels in the human body; and it is thought that the high content of phenolic flavonoids that are produced during the fermentation of red wine could be regarded as a precipatory factor. It remains a controversial issue as to whether foodstuffs trigger migraine since the results of elimination diets have been reported as both positive and negative. But many people do consider their attacks are provoked by certain foods, particularly fatty foods, chocolates and oranges. Also, missing a meal often induces attacks, possibly as the result of hypoglycemia.


Most physicians recognize that migraine sufferers tend to be compulsively neat and perfectionistic. Migraines develop in response to an attempt to control one's emotional reactions of anger, frustration and rage. The sufferer is trying to prevent an emotional explosion from occurring externally and thus, it occurs internally. The need to control is the major characteristic of people prone to migraines, whether it be control over another individual or control over a situation that he or she sees as threatening. Migraine is associated with the Brow or Sixth Chakra, which is concerned with intellect and understanding. Fears and insecurities that result in contamination of energy in this chakra are mainly negative behavioral patterns, e.g. fear of self-examination, fear in believing one is intellectually inadequate. An unwillingness to learn from life's experience, which leads to blaming others for what goes wrong in life, and an inability to learn from life's experiences are also common to migraine sufferers.

Migraine and Aromatherapy

In the management of migraine, aromatherapy is best used for prevention, because once a headache has set in many sufferers can't bear the smell of essential oils or being touched around the head. If the person can be touched, however, you can use a cold compress made with Peppermint and Lavender and place it over the forehead and temples, changing it often before it warms up. Also you can massage their temples, lightly, with Lavender. Sweet Marjoram can be used in a hot or warm compress on the back of the neck to aid the blood flow to the head.

Case Study

Following is a case study based on the premise that aromatherapy massage on a regular basis would be the best preventative measure for migraine. The 35-year-old female client was given 3 treatments over a period of 4 weeks with the intention to reduce the migraine attacks, to relieve any stress and anxiety, to overcome fear and frustration, and to instill confidence in order to procure any necessary change.

TREATMENT 1: Aromatherapy treatment using Angelica, Bergamot and Sandalwood essential oils. Angelica chosen as the main essential oil that will be used consistently over all of the treatments as it is an excellent essential oil for migraine. Intuitively Sandalwood and Bergamot were chose by vibrational connection between client and oil. The massage techniques used combined polarity, Swedish massage to the face, arms, back and back of legs, and reflexology on the feet.

Essential Oils

Angelica Root: -- Angelica helps people rediscover their own inner strength and stamina. By inhalation it aids those with an upset nervous system who urgently need to rebuild body and soul. Excellent for migraine, nervous fatigue and depression.

Bergamot -- Bergamot's psychological action stems from its ability to disperse stagnant Qi energy. Stagnant Qi can manifest as tension, irritability and frustration, and if never released can result in depression due to the accumulation of stress and repressed emotion. Bergamot oil encourages the release of pent-up feelings and it redirects nervous energy away from unproductive or addictive behavior, helping us to rediscover spontaneity and optimism. It helps us to relax and let go. It is effective both in inhalation and through application in massage, although it should be well diluted, and avoided by those with sun or other skin sensitivities.

Sandalwood -- Sandalwood's influence on the mind and spirit relate at a basic level to its cooling, calming and toning effect on the nervous system. It can be used effectively for hot, agitated states that lead to headaches and nervous exhaustion. It gives an inner strength that clarifies and stills the mind, refreshing an overheated body and returning it to a state where body and spirit can realign as one. Excellent as an inhalation, also useful in baths, lotions and massage products. Use with moderation, however, as Sandalwood is on the endangered plant list.

Results: The client felt good and relaxed initially after the treatment. Five days following, she felt unwell due to a virus, and migraine developed simultaneously.

TREATMENT 2: For the second treatment, Angelica was once again employed and the same massage techniques were applied. However, intuitively Grapefruit essential oil was chosen and used in the blend with Angelica. Sweet Marjoram was also intuitively chosen and applied on the lower back and 7th cervical.

Grapefruit -- Mainly considered for its diuretic, detoxifying and stimulating qualities. Also good for headaches. It has an ability to smooth the flow of stagnant Qi and benefits feelings of tension, frustration, irritability and moodiness by clearing psychological "heat" and congestion that result from deep-seated frustration and self-blame. Essentially cleansing, clarifying and refreshing it promotes a lightness of spirit and eases our hunger for immediate satisfaction and often desperate need to be "full". Used in massage oil by application.

Sweet Marjoram -- Marjoram has a calming effect on the nervous system and may be used for both chronic lethargy and nervous exhaustion. Inhalation is especially helpful for migraine in which tiredness alternates with tension and anxiety. It is restoring to the Qi of the spleen-pancreas, yet calming to the nerves. Relaxing, warming and comforting, Marjoram addresses itself to ease obsessive thinking and promotes the capacity for inner self-nurturing. It is also a renowned vasodilator. Used mainly by inhalation but can be added to massage blends.

Results: The client felt very relaxed after the treatment. She mentioned that her period was due and that she was expecting her usual migraine attack. She did begin to menstruate later that day, but her usual migraine did not occur then, or between the 2nd and 3rd treatments.

TREATMENT 3: For the last treatment, Angelica, Lavender and Peppermint were used in a blend, the latter two chosen intuitively. When the client arrived she was feeling tired and there was a dull ache on the left side of her head. The same massage techniques were followed as in the previous treatments. The only difference is that during the treatment, a cool compress of Lavender and Peppermint was placed across the brow, and was changed frequently.

Lavender -- Lavender is well known for its sedating and analgesic properties, and is useful for treating migraine because of its normalizing effect. It regulates and cools an overheated liver, relieving headache and migraine, and has a soothing and supporting action on the Qi of the heart, which is responsible for maintaining our overall mental-emotional equilibrium. Lavender has been described as `both habit-breaker and crisis smoother', and it can promote personal renewal, creating the strength that allows us to move on. It is suited to those full of creative potential, but who are frustrated in fulfilling it due to self-conscious reserve. Used by inhalation and application.

Peppermint -- Peppermint is especially useful for migraine related to digestive or hepatic problems. Energetically cool and dry, peppermint oil circulates Qi energy and works on the nerves and stomach. Its anti-spasmodic qualities and vaso-constrictor actions are important in the relief of migraine and tension. Used in massage blands and applied neat on back of neck.

Results: The results were excellent and could be seen almost immediately. The client felt relaxed and her headache was less severe. No migraine had developed by the end of the treatment. Some days later the client was feeling an equilibrium and felt very positive towards aromatherapy massage. Certainly the stress and anxiety were less obvious than in the first treatment.

Two other oils that could be considered in massage oil blends for migraine treatment are Roman Chamomile and Clary Sage. Roman Chamomile has a calming effect on people who are short-tempered and overly sensitive. It relieves nervous stress and helps us to let go of fixed expectations. It allows us to calmly acknowledge our own limitations and more readily accept help and support from others. It is good for headaches, hysteria and stress-related conditions, and relieves frustration, anger, insomnia, and nervous tension. Clary Sage is good for nervous tension depression due to its antispasmodic and analgesic action. It promotes estrogen secretion and acts on the pituitary gland, having a harmonizing effect. Like Marjoram, Clary Sage calms states of tension while reviving those of fatigue. It both strengthens depleted Qi, and relaxes and circulates Qi that is stuck. Its net effect is one of mental-emotional uplift, and euphoria -- for which the oil is renowned.

The Herbal Rose Report.


By Maeve Germaine

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