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Does Massage Help Manage Migraine?

Have you been tempted to try to massage away a Migraine? 

According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information, massage has proven effective to relieve pain associated with tension and sinus headaches. A study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics shows a 30-minute massage can improve the psychological and physiological state of people with chronic tension-type headaches,. But does massage work as a tool to relieve Migraine pain?

woman massaging temples to relieve migraineMigraine is not a regular headache, but a neurological disorder. So will massage work as a tool to relieve Migraine pain?

The good news is recent findings provide preliminary support for the utility of massage therapy as a nonpharmacologic treatment for individuals with Migraine. “Data on the efficacy of massage for migraine are somewhat limited,” said Dawn Buse, Associate Professor of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Director of Behavioral Medicine at the Montefiore Headache Center in New York.

“This does not mean that massage is not helpful for migraine, but rather that there have been few studies, and they have had smaller samples and less rigorous designs, so we do not have the scientific evidence necessary to make a conclusive statement about its efficacy. However, many patients find massage therapy helpful, in which case I encourage them to make it a regular part of their treatment plan along with other healthy lifestyle habits, relaxation and self-care activities.”

Treat Migraine With Massage 

Other common types of headaches including tension headaches and occipital neuralgia headaches have more evidence backing up massage as a relevant treatment. While Migraine is a complicated, neurological disease that massage won’t cure, there is evidence that massage therapy may help reduce the frequency and intensity of breakout attacks. 

Massage is particularly helpful for patients experiencing high stress or poor sleep. Stress and inadequate sleep hygiene are known Migraine triggers. Perhaps the most common headache and Migraine trigger is allergens. Fall is full of ragweed and mold, while spring brings pollen from emerging grasses, trees, and flowers.

Allergies commonly present as runny or stuffy nose, itchy and red eyes, and sneezing, but Dr. Naresh Patel of Fort Wayne Allergy and Asthma Consultants, says Migraine is an atypical reaction to allergens. That’s because allergies increase the amount of histamine our bodies produce when allergens are high, which can trigger Migraine by inflaming sinuses.

Research in massage therapy has found promising results for reducing pain associated with chronic conditions including Migraine. Massage therapy techniques, which act in part to increase blood flow to tissue, may also reduce the activity of a trigger point. Thus, it is possible that Migraine originating from this etiology may be reduced with massage therapy.

Questions About Massage And Migraine

Patients who include massage as part of their Migraine therapy typically schedule appointments every four to six weeks. When looking for a massage therapist in your area, the American Massage Therapy Association recommends seeking a knowledgeable and responsive practitioner

Ask the therapist if he or she is 

  • familiar with Migraine
  • skilled in deep tissue massage
  • able to work on trigger points
  • can use heat as well as cold. Migraine can respond better to cold around the neck, shoulders, and head
  • understands that some fragrances trigger Migraine – a condition known as hypersomnia 

When you meet 

  • Let your massage therapist know how hard or soft to touch. Do you want those knots worked out, or is even your hair and teeth extremely sensitive? Migraine patients experience allodynia, a condition in which one or several areas is extremely sensitive to touch.  
  • Listen to your therapist. These skilled professionals can tell by the position of our shoulders, neck, and head that an attack is imminent, or that we may be activating trigger points by the position of our body
  • Drink plenty of water going into a massage and after

Massage And Self-Care

When you can’t get to your massage therapist, here are suggestions for self-care:

  • Press thumb pads under eyebrow bone and along the orbital ridge close to the bridge of the nose. Press up and inward to the bones, to a comfort level, to release tension that leads to Migraine.
  • Relieve pressure around the jaw by placing the index finger inside the mouth and thumb on the surface of the face. Press and massage the muscle.
  • Apply hand reflexology. Use two fingers to pinch the fleshy area of your left hand between the thumb and pointer finger, working on any sore areas.
  • Use simple foot reflexology. While seated, place a tennis ball under the foot. Roll the ball around, applying pressure to tender areas. Repeat with your other foot. 
  • Light traction of the spine. Lay on your back. Place a rolled towel comfortably under the neck. For 30 seconds, have a partner gently and slightly lift the head and stretch the spine. Release.

Sub-Occipital Release

Tight shoulders and neck can indicate the beginning of a Migraine attack. To open and relax the area between the C1 Atlas and C2 Axis of the spine, use the Sub-Occipital Release. A partner can massage and apply counter pressure to the fascia and sub-occipital muscles. 

When a partner is not available, relief can be found by laying on a rolled towel or pillow in a way that gently applies counter pressure to the base of the occiput at the back of the skull. Sub-Occipital Release can be effective in the treatment of tension headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, and upper back pain. 

For anyone who experiences Migraine, pain relief is a primary objective. Massage therapists who understand Migrainecan partner with clients find relief faster and stay pain-free longer. Massage therapy is starting to be recognized as an additional tool for self-care for those with Migraine.

Do you or your child have Migraine? What management tips help you?

PeggySue Wells is the bestselling author who writes despite migraine attacks. 




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Meet PeggySue

We’ve heard of soccer moms and stage mothers. I’m a writer who trailers my kids and horses across the nation. My Apple computer, fondly christened MacBeth, is the essential I bring along.