Migraine Headaches and Massage Therapy

An estimated 37 million Americans deal with migraine headaches, and there are millions more who suffer other types of headache pain and disability. What they may not be aware of, however, is that there are some alternative treatments available to help alleviate symptoms, such as massage.

Why Massage for Migraines and Headaches?

What do you picture when you think of someone with a headache? It’s probably the age-old image of the sufferer with eyes pinched shut, rubbing the sides of the temples. Well, there’s a reason for that. It’s a natural instinct to massage your face or head when you feel that ache.

Massage involves that very activity: rubbing, pressing, kneading and stroking the muscles and tissues of the body. Although massage is not widely known as a headache remedy, there is evidence that its techniques can help ease migraine pain, as well as lessen the number of migraine attacks. One frequently quoted piece of research involves a finding by the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute (TRI). It discovered that the massage therapy subjects in a study reported fewer symptoms and more headache-free days, and showed an increase in serotonin (a mood-balancing chemical) levels when compared to a control group.

How Does Massage for Migraines Work?

The foundation of massage is its ability to relieve tension and lessen stress. It promotes muscle relaxation, blood flow and circulation. These are all of the main benefits that get at the source of migraines (and other types of headaches, as well). Massage is also thought to relieve pain by releasing serotonin. Low levels of serotonin can cause migraines.

However, timing is important. While deep tissue massage in-between migraines is a good strategy to lessen the number of headache attacks, it is not recommended during an actual migraine. Classic symptoms of a migraine attack include extreme sensitivity to touch. That said, light massage to the hands and feet (if tolerated) during a migraine can increase circulation and help to reduce headache pressure.

What Are the Benefits of Massage for Migraine Headaches?

Massage benefits are numerous for many conditions. The benefits below specifically apply to migraines. Massage acts to:

  • Control hormones (cortisol) that can lead to stress and headaches
  • Decrease sleep disturbances
  • Ease muscle tension, resulting in less pressure on the nerves and blood vessels
  • Ease overall pressure during headaches
  • Increase endorphins and serotonin levels (the “feel good” brain chemicals)
  • Promote relaxation
  • Reduce anxiety and mental stress
  • Release shortened muscles in the head, shoulders, neck
  • Relieve muscle spasms and trigger-point pain

What Are the Different Types of Massage Recommended?

Not all types of massage are appropriate for all migraine sufferers. If you are inexperienced with massage or unsure of what might be beneficial for you, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor. Also, seek out a massage therapist experienced in working with migraine sufferers. With that, here are the relevant types of massage: 

Craniosacral therapy: This type of massage is performed in a lying position, focusing on the scalp and skull. It lessens the pain waves and soothes the nerve endings. This helps to alleviate headaches in those who do not experience touch sensitivity. 

Deep tissue massage: This popular and widely used form of massage entails long, slow strokes in which hand pressure is applied to various areas of the body to relieve muscle tension and aid relaxation.

Neuromuscular massage: This is also known as trigger-point therapy. Trigger points are locations in muscles which may be tense, sore or overworked. This technique, which entails moderate pressure on the body’s trigger points, is believed to reduce nerve compression.

Reflexology: This system focuses on areas in the soles of the feet which are associated with impact on various parts of the body. Using pressure, massage and manipulation, reflexology practitioners stimulate these areas to provide pain relief, specifically in this case for the head. Many migraine sufferers find relief with this technique, as well as hand and finger massage.

Is It Safe?

Massage is a safe, compassionate and often effective modality that can offer relief for migraine and headache sufferers. Yet, fewer than five percent of those with debilitating migraines have sought help or been treated. That’s why awareness is so important. Why suffer unnecessarily?

National Migraine & Headache Awareness Month brings to light the campaign launched in March 2017 by the American Migraine Foundation (AMF) called Move Against Migraine. It aims to address the stigma attached to this disease and the fact that there are safe, noninvasive treatment options, such as massage, available to help alleviate pain.

At Spinal Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, we are experts in providing customized massage therapy as part of our multi-disciplinary approach. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us today.