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Can Massage Be Used to Relieve Migraine

Posted in Migraines

Yes, massage can be an effective method for relieving certain types of headaches, particularly tension headaches and migraines.

Migraine management often relies on medication as a primary approach, but emerging research suggests that massage therapy might offer relief for certain individuals. This presents a hopeful option, particularly for those who grapple with the side effects associated with migraine medications.

However, it’s important to temper expectations and not hastily abandon conventional migraine medications. The reason for this caution lies in the limited amount of available data, which has not yet substantiated massage therapy as an official recommendation for migraine treatment by esteemed organizations like the American Headache Society. This society comprises healthcare professionals specializing in head and facial pain disorders.

Nonetheless, what we can glean from current research is the promise of massage therapy as a specific and potentially beneficial intervention for migraines. Numerous smaller studies spanning several decades have reported positive links between massage and migraine relief. Furthermore, there is ample high-quality research highlighting the capacity of massage therapy to mitigate common migraine triggers, notably stress and sleep disturbances.

The Reasons Why Massage Can Relieve Headaches

Massage therapy has shown promise in reducing migraine pain and enhancing the quality of life for individuals dealing with this condition. Two separate studies, one conducted in the U.S. and another in New Zealand, provide insights into the potential benefits of massage therapy for migraine sufferers.

U.S. Study: In a U.S. study involving 26 participants with migraines, two groups were formed: a control group that received no intervention and a massage group that received two massages per week for five weeks. The results were significantly favorable for the massage group, who reported:

  • Substantially reduced migraine pain.
  • An increase in headache-free days.
  • A decrease in sleep problems.
  • Higher levels of serotonin, a hormone associated with well-being and mood regulation.

New Zealand Study: In a 13-week study in New Zealand, nearly 50 participants were divided into a control group and a massage group. Both groups regularly completed health and lifestyle questionnaires. However, the massage group received weekly massages during weeks 5 to 10. The results showed lasting benefits, even during the final three weeks of the study when massages were discontinued. Compared to the control group, the massage group reported:

  • A reduction in the frequency of migraines.
  • Decreases in anxiety levels, heart rate, and the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Enhanced stress management and coping abilities.
  • A significant improvement in sleep quality.
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These findings indicate that massage therapy may have a positive and enduring impact on migraine sufferers by reducing the frequency and intensity of migraines, alleviating stress, and improving sleep quality. While further research is necessary to confirm these benefits on a broader scale, these studies offer promising insights into the potential role of massage therapy in migraine management.

Here’s how massage can help alleviate headaches:

  1. Muscle Relaxation: Many headaches, including tension headaches, are related to muscle tension and tightness in the neck, shoulders, and upper back. Massage therapy can help relax and release tension in these muscles, reducing headache symptoms.
  2. Improved Blood Circulation: Massage increases blood flow to the massaged area, which can help improve circulation and reduce the constriction of blood vessels that can contribute to headaches.
  3. Stress Reduction: Stress is a common trigger for tension headaches and can also exacerbate migraines. Massage promotes relaxation and reduces stress hormones in the body, potentially reducing the frequency and intensity of stress-related headaches.
  4. Release of Endorphins: Massage triggers the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. This can provide pain relief and improve overall well-being.
  5. Alleviation of Trigger Points: Trigger points, also known as muscle knots, can refer pain to other areas of the body, including the head and neck. Massage therapists can identify and work on trigger points to reduce referred pain.


Types of Massage Therapy for Migraine

There are various types of massage therapy that can be explored for migraine relief, each with its own unique characteristics and potential benefits. The choice of massage type that works best for migraine relief can vary from person to person based on individual preferences, triggers, and responses. Here is a list of massage types with some scientific support for their potential efficacy in migraine relief:

  1. Traditional and Aromatherapy Massage: Traditional massage is known for its ability to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. When combined with aromatherapy, where essential oils are incorporated into the session, the benefits may be enhanced. Research indicates that lavender essential oil, often used in aromatherapy, can help relieve stress and improve sleep quality. Some studies even suggest that lavender aromatherapy may reduce migraine symptoms. However, it’s essential to be aware that essential oils can have varying effects, and some scents may trigger headaches in individuals sensitive to smells.
  2. Trigger Point Massage: Trigger point massage focuses on addressing specific trigger points in the head and neck. The premise is that issues in skeletal muscles can refer pain to the head, and by releasing these muscles, chronic headaches may improve. While research on trigger point massage for migraines is limited, it shows promise. Some studies have found that combining trigger point therapy with medication can be significantly more effective for migraine relief than medication alone.
  3. Reflexology: Reflexology involves applying pressure to specific parts of the hands or feet to stimulate corresponding areas of the body. Similar to trigger point massage, the concept is that stimulating one part of the body can promote healing in another. Reflexology has been associated with relaxation, improved sleep, reduced stress levels, and decreased pain, all of which can be beneficial for migraine management.
  4. Thai Massage: Thai massage is an active and dynamic form of massage that combines muscle compression, stretching, pulling, and rocking. While it differs from the soothing nature of typical Western massages, Thai massage has shown a connection to reducing migraine pain, making it a potential component of an overall migraine management strategy. It’s essential to communicate with the therapist if any discomfort arises during the treatment.
  5. Hot or Cold Stone Therapy: Hot and cold stone therapy involves the use of heated or cooled, smooth stones to achieve therapeutic effects. Hot stone massage induces relaxation, which can be particularly beneficial for improving sleep. Cold stone therapy for migraines involves the placement of cooled stones on the face and neck. While specific scientific research on this technique is limited, cold therapy for migraine and pain relief, in general, has shown positive results.
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The choice of massage type should align with individual preferences and sensitivities. Additionally, it’s essential to consult with a qualified massage therapist who can tailor the treatment to your specific needs and provide guidance throughout the process. Massage therapy can be a complementary approach to managing migraines, but it should be part of a comprehensive migraine management plan that may include other treatments and lifestyle adjustments.

What I Should Know Before I Find a Therapist ?

When seeking massage for headache relief:

  • Choose a Qualified Massage Therapist: Ensure that the massage therapist you choose is licensed and trained in providing therapeutic massage for headache relief.
  • Communicate Your Needs: Inform your massage therapist about the type and location of your headaches, as well as any preferences or concerns you have.
  • Duration and Frequency: The duration and frequency of massage sessions can vary based on individual needs. Some people find relief from a single session, while others benefit from regular massages.
  • Types of Massage: Various massage techniques can be used to relieve headaches, including Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, and trigger point therapy. Discuss with your therapist which approach is best for your specific condition.

It’s important to note that while massage can be an effective complementary therapy for headache relief, it may not be suitable for all types of headaches or for everyone. If you have severe or persistent headaches, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. They can help determine the underlying cause of your headaches and recommend appropriate therapies, which may include massage in combination with other treatments.

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