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Have you noticed how many clients report they have a digestive problem? According to the Harvard Health Publication, The Sensitive Gut, one in four people have frequent gastrointestinal (GI) problems that can severely disrupt a normal lifestyle. Although massage therapists are not recruited to diagnose or treat medical conditions, incorporating aromatherapy into a bodywork session can soothe and even improve digestive problem symptoms.

GI Problems

In North America, at least 100 million people are estimated to have recurrent, long-term, gastrointestinal symptoms. Of those people, over 80 million suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a diagnosis typically given when no other well-defined digestive disease can be found. Unfortunately, IBS often has a limited response to medication. The most common digestive symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal distention with excessive gas
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn

The center of our body’s food processing, nutrient absorption, hormone manufacture and waste elimination, the digestive system can produce many discomforts that may be eased by aromatherapy.


Aromatherapy uses highly concentrated essential oils extracted from plants to stimulate the healing process and to treat symptoms of illness. Applied topically on its own or in a blend, essential oils can ease cramps, gas, bloating, heartburn, indigestion, stomach pain and elimination difficulties. Because they are very potent, only a drop or two is needed to achieve results. Some of the best essential oils for treating digestive complaints include:

  • Peppermint – one of the most well-known herbs for the digestive system, peppermint’s cooling and soothing properties categorizes it as an anti-inflammatory oil. Peppermint is widely used to reduce flatulence, cool ulcers and provide heartburn relief.
  • Anise or Fennel – Anise or fennel essential oils are known as digestive tonics with anti-spasmodic and antiseptic properties. These can be helpful for easing gas pain, cramps, bloating and nausea. In addition, many practitioners use anise or fennel to help balance hormones.
  • Cinnamon – A powerful antimicrobial essential oil, cinnamon is used to warm a cold, painful belly or to fight infection. More recent applications of cinnamon include boosting the metabolism and aiding weight loss. However, this oil must be used sparingly and with caution because it can be irritating to the skin.
  • Ginger – The essential oil of this popular root helps warm and tonify the digestive system. Ginger oil is preferred when working with a client who has nausea or vomiting and has an abdomen that feels cold. In addition, using this oil on the lower back can help stimulate a sluggish large intestine.

An essential oil blend* geared towards digestive health can add a unique therapeutic value to an aromatherapy massage. While only a therapist with specific training in aromatherapy is advised to prepare and apply essential oil blends, the following suggestions are easily incorporated into a session:

  • Blend orange, peppermint and chamomile oils for a general digestive massage oil blend.
  • When massaged into the abdomen, a blend of chamomile and lavender oils can help ease abdominal cramping and gas pains.
  • Heartburn can be relieved by massaging the abdomen with a blend of orange and chamomile essential oils.

*Only professionals schooled in blending should work with mixing oils. A blend always consists of a few drops of essential oils in one or several ounces of neutral carrier oil.

As the most potent part of a plant, essential oils are being increasingly recognized as possessing substantial healing power. Since they are absorbed by the skin and incorporated into the circulation, the skillful, topical application of essential oils can add another healing dimension to any bodyworker’s practice. Whether addressing abdominal pain, flatulence, bloating, nausea, heartburn or constipation, aromatherapy can help ease your clients’ digestive woes.

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