Indian Head Massage: Autism and Alzheimers

Espalda Head and Hands

‘Indian Head Massage’ originated, as its name implies, in India, where the practice of regular head and facial massage is considered to be an important part of a healthy lifestyle and has evolved over thousands of years. According to Indian tradition, babies are massaged daily in order to improve their health and development. As they grow up they are massaged at least twice a week between the ages of three and six and then as older children they learn the skills required to massage other family members to keep this custom alive. Traditionally a range of different oils (such as sesame, mustard and coconut) were used, depending on the season and accessibility of natural resources.

Western variations of the seated Indian Head Massage can either be provided ‘dry’ with a client clothed or with oils making it perfectly adaptable for all kinds of environments in addition to the more stereotypical spa or salon treatments. Workplaces, residential homes and even schools, through programmes such as Mary Atkinson’s Story Massage programme (1), can all benefit and there is a wealth of evidence to support the positive outcomes that massage can bring about in the workplace.

However, more recently I have become aware of the versatility of Indian Head Massage from a more therapeutic perspective. It has been used successfully to help and support children and young adults living with autism and other special needs. Giuliana Fenwick’s heartbreaking yet inspiring story appeared in the latest edition of the FHT’s International Therapist. A complementary therapist for most of her working life, she describes how a specially adapted ‘gentle touch’ form of the treatment that she developed and refined, that was softer and more nurturing in nature than normal Indian Head Massage practice, helped her teenage son deal with the social, emotional and mental struggles that were brought about by his autism. She has since taken this adapted form of the treatment into schools and specialist academies, always ensuring that the child / young adult receives the treatment in a way that allows them to feel most comfortable with the process. She even describes how she ‘massaged one young person while walking from room-to-room’ and ‘one one occasion [she] massaged a person while WrestleMania was on the television’! (2) Clearly those that she works with are made to feel comfortable in her presence in order for her to achieve the best therapeutic results! Her book ‘Indian Head Massage for Special Needs’ (published by Singing Dragon) was published late last year and I’ve got my copy on order and I’ll be looking into further training to develop my skills in this area. http://www.singingdragon.com/sdblog/2015/12/giuliana-fenwick-on-her-book-indian-head-massage-for-special-needs/

Additionally, at the other end of the age range, Indian Head Massage, due to its versatility is a suitable treatment to take into nursing and residential homes. With the correct training (and liaison with the necessary medical professionals) it can be adapted further still for use with those suffering from Alzheimer’s and it can also form part of palliative care packages. Treatment moves and seating positions can be safely adapted and personalised to ensure that each individual receives a massage that suits his or her medical and emotional needs. (3)

Therapeutic touch through variations of Indian Head Massage massage can play a huge part in improving health and wellbeing across a wide age range and its benefits are far reaching. We ought not to forget that the influence of the world of massage therapies stretches far and wide, above and beyond the stereotypical images of ladies who lunch in white fluffy gowns. I have utmost respect for Giuliana, who has developed an approach to massage that has significant implications for children and young adults living with special needs and encourage you to share her story with those you think might be interested in her approach.

If you would like to find out more about Giuliana’s work you can visit her website here: http://www.therapiesforspecialneeds.co.uk/

If you would like to find out more about how Espalda Massage Therapy can provide on-site treatments in residential homes please get in touch with Sarah via our website: http://www.espaldamassage.co.uk/about-espalda/


Espalda Massage FHT



(1) http://www.storymassage.co.uk/about-us/

(2) A Head Start – Giuliana Fenwick – FHT International Therapist, Issue 116, Spring 2016

(3) A Gentle Touch – Mary Atkinson – FHT International Therapist, Issue 104, April 2013

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