How to Do an Indian Head Massage

What is a treatment plan?

A treatment plan is a strategy for dealing with a client’s particular condition in the best possible way. It is formulated following the consultation in conjunction with the client. For example, if someone suffers from insomnia, it may be best for treatments to be scheduled in the evening to promote sleep, or if someone has specific areas of tension, you may need to spend more time working on those areas. Specific scalp conditions may require certain oils to be used and extra support may be needed for some clients (e.g. a cushion to support the lower back in cases of lordosis). All of these points should be included on the treatment plan, which should be reviewed each time the client comes for treatment to see if any changes are needed.

I am a student of Indian Head Massage and would like my father, who has Parkinson’s disease, to be one of my case studies. Would this be okay?

If you need to seek medical advice before treating a client (as in cases of Parkinson’s disease), it is recommended that you wait until you are qualified. This is a sensible precaution that protects everyone involved.

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Massage techniques

Indian Head Massage techniques consist of variations of classical massage movements and some that are specific to Indian Head Massage. Treatment is traditionally done through the clothing, the use of oil being optional. In India, massage skills are passed down through generations and it is quite common to find variations from one family or region to the next. The main techniques employed in a treatment are described next.

Eff leu rage

From the French ‘effleurer’ meaning ‘to touch lightly’, this is a gentle, sweeping, relaxing stroke, with vaiying levels of pressure. It is used at the beginning and end of a massage, to soothe, relax and improve circulation. It prepares the body for massage, introduces the client to the therapist’s touch, links movements and warms the area. It can also be used with firm pressure once muscles have been relaxed, to help eliminate toxins.

Petrissage (Kneading)

From the French ‘petrir’ meaning ‘to knead’ or rub with force, this stroke uses both kneading and rubbing movements to manipulate tissues and muscles. It uses pressure of the hands (or the fingers, thumbs or knuckles) to stretch and knead tissues and break down tension and stiffness caused by a build-up of toxins such as lactic acid. Although a firm stroke, it is generally more relaxing than invigorating because it releases tightness and toxins. It should not be used on bony or delicate areas.


This is a form of petrissage in which muscles are gently pressed against a surface (such as the upper arms or scalp) with both hands and slowly released. It increases blood flow and relieves muscular tension and pain.


From the Latin ‘fricare’, meaning to rub down, friction techniques use the whole hand or just the fingers, thumb, or palm to compress tissue against bone, rather than sliding over the skin. Friction is often used for work on a small area or specific areas of tightness. It improves circulation, generates local heat, releases muscular tension and encourages hair growth when done on the scalp.


From the Latin ‘percutere’, meaning ‘to hit’, percussion techniques are brisk, invigorating and stimulating. The hands are used to strike the body rapidly and suddenly. It stimulates the nerves, improves circulation, energises mind and body and improves muscle tone. The form of percussion used in Indian Head Massage is tapotement, which uses light, brisk movements. The movements include hacking (with the sides of the little fingers); champi (hands joined); cupping (using cupped hands) and tabla (drumming with fingers).

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