Indian Head Massage in Palliative Care

Adapted Indian Head Massage is a popular therapy for patients, carers and bereaved in a palliative care setting. These techniques can be learnt on my FHT accredited Diploma in Indian Head Massage. 

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Much of the joy of using Indian Head Massage lies in its simplicity and accessibility – no special equipment is needed except a chair and a gentle pair of hands.

Indian Head Massage can be defined as a seated massage therapy that involves the systematic use of massage techniques on the area surrounding the head: scalp, ears, face and neck, and extending to the shoulders, upper back and upper arms.  However, such is its versatility that massage moves and treatment positions can be adapted in many different ways. Treatment can be given through light clothing or with a choice of oils. Qualified aromatherapists may choose to use a blend of essential oils in a carrier oil.

A Gentle Touch

  • Adapted Indian Head Massage always takes into account the fluctuating physical, emotional and energetic condition of the individual.
  • In general terms, practitioners start gently and slowly – increasing pressure to suit the person, avoiding heavy percussion moves or very deep kneading, vigorous stretching or manipulation.
  • Treatment includes plenty of stroking, holds and repetitive moves.
  • Sessions tend to be of less duration, usually 20-30 minutes, but sometimes as little as five to ten minutes, which includes time spent on relaxation and breathing exercises.
  • The practitioner needs to be flexible and creative at all times, always aware of the body language of the patient.
  •  Skin can be very sensitive and fragile, mobility can be seriously impaired, there may be drips and dressings to work around – and hospital beds can present a variety of challenges!
  • In some instances, treatment positions and massage moves may need to be adapted to such an extent that the Indian Head Massage bears little resemblance to original training.

Benefits of Indian Head Massage

Reported benefits of Indian Head Massage for palliative care include reduction in anxiety and mild depression, increased relaxation and a feeling of safety and reassurance.  Touching the head is especially intimate and can act as a releasing mechanism for expression of emotions. Above all, many people explain that with regular Indian Head Massage they are able to “cope better” with their devastating effects of their illness.

One gentleman with Motor Neurone Disease commented that Indian Head Massage helped slow down his breathing which in turn, helped him relax and enjoy the psychological benefits of gentle touch. A lady, who had lost her hair whilst undergoing chemotherapy, found that Indian Head Massage using organic sunflower oil helped boost her body image and confidence. A third person reported that her Indian Head Massage session offered her a safe haven and was one of the only times when she felt free from fear of the future. These evaluations show that the importance of communication and empathy with supportive and caring touch can never be underestimated.

 Cautions and Contra-Indications

It is vital that therapists working within a clinical setting are issued with a policies and guidelines which include issues surrounding consent to treatment, as well as cautions and contra-indications to Indian Head Massage which may be additional to those already covered as part of training.

Once cautions and contra-indications are taken into account and the person has offered consent to Indian Head Massage, then the therapist’s role is to offer a safe and appropriate treatment for the individual. It is so important that therapists learn to change their ‘mind-set’ from actively ‘doing’ to offering a calm presence and ‘being’ alongside the person. The therapist’s attitude and intention to share a comforting Indian Head Massage, is as important as the choice of particular techniques or oils.

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One Comment

  1. Jenni Homewood
    Posted May 5, 2016 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Hello Mary
    I am the complementary therapy manager at St Helena Hospice in Co9lchester. I have several volunteer therapists, and myself who are already trained in IHM, but we currently don’t offer this service at the hospice as it would need to be adapted for palliative care, and would need to be approved by clinical governance. Do you run workshops on how to adapt IHM for hospice and palliative care. I look forward to hearing from you
    Jenni