Maternity and gynecology researchers have determined that abdominal massage with essential herbal oils will decrease pain and excessive bleeding in difficult menstruation.
Managing a painful menses with heavy bleeding is a common issue for women – especially when during periods of additional stress, early menstruation, and during pre- and peri-menopausal years. Conventional medicine has provided an array of pain medications to help temporarily alleviate pain – but some of these also come with liver-damaging and other side effects.
The researchers, from the Faculty of Nursing at Egypt's Mansoura University, studied 95 female nursing students between the ages of 17 and 20 years old. Before the treatments began, the students were randomized and assessed during one complete menstrual cycle.
After the initial assessment, for seven days prior to each student's menstruation period, the researchers – nursing faculty - gave each student a 10-minute abdominal massage once per day. On one group the researchers used either a blend of essential oils in an almond oil base. On the other group, they used an almond oil base without the essential oils.
The essential oil blend was made up of one-and-a-half parts Cinnamon oil, one-and-a-half part Clove oil, one part Lavender oil and one part Rose oil. These were diluted in sweet Almond oil at a 5% dilution.
The researchers used the standardized VAS-pain scale – VAS = visual analog scale – to assess the pain of each student during menstruation. The VAS uses a 0 to 10 pain scale with 0 signifying no pain. They also timed pain in hours and measured the amount of bleeding by the number of saturated pads. Each student was assessed on the first, second and third day of menstruation bleeding.
After one cycle of massage treatment, the two groups were switched – also called a crossover – and the group given the essential oil massage was given the placebo oil massage and vice versa.
In both treatment series, the researchers found that those given the essential oil massages had significantly less pain and less bleeding than the placebo group.
During the first treatment phase, the essential oil-treated group had 17% less pain than the untreated group on the first day, 20% less pain on the 2nd day, and 28% less pain on the third day tested compared to the group massaged only with almond oil. The crossover treatment phase resulted in similar pain reductions, except that the third day's pain was 57% less than the pain scale of the placebo group.
Meanwhile the duration of pain in the first phase averaged 23.1 hours for the placebo group and only 18.6 hours for the essential oil-treated group. During the crossover treatment, the pain duration was 24.5 for the placebo group and only 19.3 for the treated group.
During the initial assessment, over a third of the students had excessive menstrual bleeding. The 75% to 95% of the essential oil-treated group that had excessive bleeding initially had average bleeding by the third day.
This study is supported by a previous study from Korea showing similar findings with essential oil massage. Here the researchers – from Wonkwang Public Health College's School of Nursing – studied 67 female students. This study divided the students into three groups – a treated group, a placebo group and a control group (no treatment). To the treated group they gave short abdominal massages with an essential oil blend of two drops essential Lavender oil, one drop of essential Clary Sage oil, and one drop of essential Rose oil in five cc's of Almond oil – about 1/6th of an ounce.
This study also found that menstruation pain and severity of bleeding were reduced significantly among those massaged with the essential oils.
Essential oils are extracts of herbs using a distillation method – with steam being one of the better methods used, but alcohol and other solvents sometimes being used to extract the essential oils.
The distillation process retains much of the volatile phyto-compounds contained in the plant – including those that maintain aromas. For this reason, essential herbal oils are often referred to as aromatherapy oils.
However, the terminology of aromatherapy oils can be confusing because the body responds to these essential oils in deeper ways than simply through their aroma. The volatile oils contain many compounds – sometimes hundreds – which can be absorbed through the skin into the body.
Because of this, a person may be sensitive to certain essential oils. For this reason, an essential oil should be carefully skin-tested with a tiny diluted amount prior to a larger application on the skin. And essential oil contact with the mucous membranes (mouth, nose, ears, and so on) should be done only with the advice of ones health professional knowledgeable in the use of essential oils.
Both of the above studies confirm that while massage may be useful, daily massage with carefully selected essential oils can significantly reduce a significant amount of pain and excessive bleeding in menstruation.
And this is why the use of essential oils for menstruation has been utilized for over 4,000 years in Egyptian, Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Because it works.
Written by Case Adams, Naturopath
Marzouk TM, El-Nemer AM, Baraka HN. The effect of aromatherapy abdominal massage on alleviating menstrual pain in nursing students: a prospective randomized cross-over study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:742421.
Han SH, Hur MH, Buckle J, Choi J, Lee MS. Effect of aromatherapy on symptoms of dysmenorrhea in college students: A randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2006 Jul-Aug;12(6):535-41.