Massage therapy is a very effective treatment for headaches.
There are many different types of headaches:
- Tension headaches – from muscle tension, misalignment of bones/joints, postural patterns, eye strain, lack of sleep.
- Migraines or vascular headaches. The word migraine actually means change in blood flow. You can have a migraine without pain. They can be caused by hormone fluctuations, food allergies and stress.
- Headaches from jaw or face pain
- Secondary headaches from tumors or chemical imbalances
- Headaches from side effects of medications.
- Headaches from food allergies.
- Headaches from sleep deprivation.
- Headaches from sleeping incorrectly on your stomach especially.
Whatever the type of headache, your massage therapist will be able to help reduce the pain, the frequency of headaches and the intensity of headaches.
What to expect from your massage therapist.
Your massage therapist will ask you many questions to assess your condition first to make sure you do not need to see a medical doctor first. They will ask some of these questions:
- When did the headache start?
- What brought on the headache?
- How often do you have headaches?
- Have you been sleeping well or are you having trouble sleeping?
- What area of your head hurts? Does it hurt on the sides of your temples, front of your head, side of your head or back of your head?
- Do you have jaw pain, neck pain or upper back pain?
- Are you taking any medications right now for the pain?
The massage therapist will then decide how to proceed. The massage will usually include working on the neck, the back of the head where the neck meets the head, the head itself, the upper back, the front of the neck and usually the whole back. The goal is to help relax tight muscles that may be restricting circulation and movement to relieve the headache pain.
Some of the muscles that can be involved in headaches are muscles of the head, neck, face, shoulders and back:
• Upper trapezius
• Splenius Cervicis
• Splenius Capitis
• Levator Scapula
• Corrugator Supercilii
• Temporomandibular joint
• Scalene Muscle Group
There is not any one type of massage therapy that will work better on headaches. It really depends on the experience and skills of each individual massage therapist.
What the Research Says:
Chaibi A1, Russell MB.
Manual therapy has an efficacy in the management of CTTH that equals prophylactic medication with tricyclic antidepressant. At present no manual therapy studies exist for chronic migraine or chronic cluster headache. Future manual therapy RCTs on primary chronic headache should adhere to the recommendation of the International Headache Society, i.e. primary end point is headache frequency and secondary end-points are duration and intensity. Future manual therapy studies on CM with and without medication overuse is also warranted, since such studies do not exist today.
Aleksander Chaibi,1Peter J. Tuchin,2 and Michael Bjørn Russell1,3
Conclusion: Current RCTs suggest that massage therapy, physiotherapy, relaxation and chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy might be equally efficient as propranolol and topiramate in the prophylactic management of migraine. However, a firm conclusion requires, in future, well-conducted RCTs without the many methodological shortcomings of the evaluated RCTs on manual therapies. Such studies should follow clinical trial guidelines from the International Headache Society
Randomized Control Trials
Ann Behav Med. 2006 Aug;32(1):50-9.
A randomized, controlled trial of massage therapy as a treatment for migraine. Lawler SP1, Cameron LD.
The findings provide preliminary support for the utility of massage therapy as a nonpharmacologic treatment for individuals suffering from migraines.
When to see a doctor.
You may want to see a doctor if the headache persists and massage therapy does not help. See a doctor to get a prescription for massage therapy.
Self Help for Headaches
American Massage Therapy Association Position Paper: Massage therapy for headaches
Share your stories of using massage therapy to help with headaches!
These stories could be used in an upcoming book!