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Rooted in the central nervous system, epilepsy is a relatively common seizure disorder. Typically diagnosed by a physician after a person has had at least two unprovoked seizures–epileptic seizures not caused by a known medical condition like alcohol withdrawal or extremely low blood sugar. Seizures can be genetic, related to a brain injury, or due to an unknown cause.
Affecting how a person feels or acts for a short period of time, a seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain’s outer rim, called the cerebral cortex. Ranging from mild to totally disabling, there are many possible symptoms of a seizure. While not everyone experiences these, some of the more typical seizure symptoms include:
- Blacking out
- Feeling spacey or dizzy
- Sensation of being out of the body
- Convulsions or twitching
- Feeling of fear
- Loss of motor control
- Difficulty talking
- Eyes rolling up into head
- Drooling, teeth clenching, or tongue biting
- Memory loss
Approximately seventy percent of those with epilepsy can control their disorder with medications; however the remaining 30 percent are not as lucky. Additionally, the medications for epilepsy can have severe side effects. Although a massage therapist should never advise a client to abandon their prescription, regular bodywork and communication with a client and their doctor could lead to a physician-guided reduction in medication.
Causes of epilepsy vary based on the age of the person, but at every age the cause of epilepsy is unknown for about half of all those affected. Common causes of seizures in children and adults include:
- Congenital conditions (Down’s syndrome; Angelman’s syndrome; tuberous sclerosis and neurofibromatosis)
- Genetic factors
- Progressive brain disease (rare)
- Head trauma
For seniors, common causes for seizures include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
Some people with no clear cause of epilepsy could have a genetic cause.
For those that have epilepsy, some find that there is a pattern or trigger that can bring on a seizure. One common trigger that has been identified is stress.
In vulnerable individuals, stress causes brain cells prone to hyper-excitability to fire abnormally. In addition to the logical conclusion of reducing stress through seeking avenues of relaxation, cranial-sacral therapy and aromatherapy have both demonstrated remarkable results for reducing seizure occurrence and severity.
The brain, the heaviest of our organs, floats within the sugar, salt and enzyme-rich cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF). This internal sea has its own ebb and flow which is normally between 10 to 14 cycles per minute. According to cranial-sacral therapists, a likely theory explaining epilepsy is the misalignment or compression of the skull bones and congestion within the CSF. Because fluid is a terrific conductor of sensations, any turbulence, erratic movement or asymmetry can reveal blockages within the enclosed cerebral-spinal system.
Many reported case studies claim that the application of cranial-sacral therapy helps clients with epilepsy. The release of stuck skull bones gently flushes the cerebral-spinal system with CSF. This circulation of fluid restores the skull’s internal sea flow and stretches the brain’s membranes just enough to release any restrictions or adhesions contributing to seizure activity.
Despite compelling research, conventional medical practitioners have not yet incorporated elements of aromatherapy into epilepsy treatment. In a study conducted at the University of Birmingham in England, Dr. Tim Betts revealed a successful treatment for those with intractable epilepsy. Comprising approximately 20 to 30 percent of all epilepsy cases, intractable epilepsy describes epilepsy that is unresponsive to drug therapy.
Dr. Betts trained 50 epileptic patients into learning self-hypnosis, designed to encourage relaxation at the start of a seizure. At first, the patients showed little, if any, improvement. Then, Dr. Betts arranged half of these patients to have aromatherapy massages with whatever essential oil the patient found to be most pleasant. These patients were then told to take a whiff from a bottle containing the chosen oil whenever they felt a seizure coming on. The patients using self-hypnosis alone continued to show no improvement, whereas all but one of those who had aromatherapy massages became completely seizure-free. Dubbed the “smell-memory technique,” the use of essential oils used in aromatherapy massage became a trigger for a conditioned relaxation response.
When choosing an essential oil for aromatherapy massage, there are some specific oils to avoid. Rosemary, sage, camphor, fennel and hyssop are known to have convulsant effects. Do not experiment with these oils on a person with epilepsy. Jasmine is a good essential oil to begin with, s it is known for its anticonvulsant properties.
For bodyworkers seeing clients with epilepsy, being familiar with the most effective techniques will increase the therapeutic value of your session. While a relaxation-based massage will have benefits of its own, adding techniques from cranial-sacral therapy or using aromatherapy can actually help clients with this potentially debilitating condition.
Earn continuing education credit for this article contained in our Nervous System Disorders series.