Can massage help with headaches and migraines? A fair amount of research has been done on this topic, and the answer is yes! Studies have found reduced headache frequency and duration in massage recipients, an effect which became more pronounced over multiple sessions. Even better, this reduction of symptoms tended to stick around for weeks or months following the end of the protocol.
How does this work, exactly? For tension headaches, the effect is pretty straightforward. A typical pattern for these headaches is neck tightness, followed by tension at the base of the skull, and finally a stabbing pain in the forehead or behind the eyes. By getting regular massage, we can reduce chronic tension in the neck and shoulders, preventing that “pull” at the base of the skull. Massage is also excellent for long-term stress reduction, which can prevent that progressive tightening from happening in the first place.
If you experience headaches in your temples: Do you also have jaw pain or dysfunction? Massage is excellent for managing jaw tightness, which can prevent that dull ache in the temples from ever starting in the first place. Teeth clenching/grinding is also strongly correlated with stress, so massage is a good way of approaching the issue from all angles.
Finally, what about migraines? Migraines are a more complex disorder, typically presenting with other symptoms in addition to pain (e.g. light sensitivity, nausea, visual disturbances), and often with an obscure cause. While muscular tension may contribute, these are likely vascular and neurological in origin. The good news is that, according to the two studies done on massage for migraine sufferers, both the intensity and frequency of migraine can be reduced over the course of multiple sessions.
Over my time as a massage therapist, I’ve found massage to be an excellent treatment for chronic headache. While it works best for those who come frequently, even one massage a month can help make the pain more manageable. I hope to see you soon!