Can Migraine Massage Offer Relief From Painful Headaches?

If you or a loved one suffers from frequent or occasional migraine headaches, you know how bad they can get. Migraine pain and other symptoms can be debilitating. You may need to miss work or say no to events or activities you would usually enjoy.

Doctors usually recommend over-the-counter drugs or prescribe stronger medications to help ease migraine symptoms. They may also recommend keeping a migraine journal to determine what triggers your migraines.

Massage therapy may be beneficial to you if you have tried other treatments and they haven’t worked, or you prefer not to take medication because of side effects (or other reasons).

Massage therapy can help some people cope with, avoid, or reduce migraine pain. The treatment has been studied,¹ and the results have shown promise. But studies are limited, and massage therapy may not be suitable for everyone.

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Benefits of massage therapy for migraines

Although massage therapy may not be a substitute for medication and lifestyle changes in some people, it may help ease your migraines in the following ways:

Reducing blood pressure

Massage therapy has been shown to have a positive impact on blood pressure. Women who have regular massages are thought to have lowered blood pressure.

Having migraines with aura increases your risk of ischaemic stroke, although only very slightly. High blood pressure also raises your risk of stroke, so blood pressure management is particularly important for migraine sufferers.

Lessening tension headache symptoms

A tension headache isn’t the same as a migraine, but it can still be painful. Holding tension can also lead to a migraine. Massage reduces tension in the back, neck, shoulders, face, and jaw.

Preventing tension headaches and promoting overall relaxation and wellness is a wonderful form of self-care that can improve your quality of life.

Easing stress

Did you know that stress triggers migraines in 70%² of people who get them? Stress is a common migraine trigger, but massage therapy may help lower your stress levels.

Massage is thought to reduce stress by lowering levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in your brain and boosting your parasympathetic nervous system, an automatic calming mechanism. It can help improve your sense of general well-being and give you a moment to yourself where you can switch off from your worries and responsibilities.

Helping you sleep

There is a close link between sleep and migraines. Not getting enough sleep (or getting too much) can trigger a migraine in some people, while migraines can negatively affect sleep quality.

You can take steps to improve your sleep schedule, like going to bed and waking up at the same time each night or creating a peaceful sleep environment with dim lighting and candles. Massage therapy is also known to help improve sleep in some people.

Massage therapy can help you get better sleep in two ways:

  1. Massage can help reduce your stress levels which are closely linked to migraines.

  2. Massage can help ease pain and tension, which may be affecting your sleep.

Types of massage for headaches

These types of massage may help ease your migraine symptoms.

Traditional and aromatherapy massage

Traditional or classic massage is a gentle yet invigorating and effective massage. It is one of the most widely performed massage types.

This type of massage involves stretching, kneading, percussion, and tapping. Your therapist may use lotions or oils to reduce friction, and in some cases, they may use aromatherapy to increase relaxation and well-being.

Traditional or aromatherapy massage is a great option for those who prefer a softer touch. It is not as intense as Thai massage, for example.

Trigger point massage

Trigger point massage releases and softens muscle knots to reduce pain, tension, and stiffness.

This type of massage can help ease your neck and shoulder knots caused by stress, poor posture, sitting all day, and poor workplace ergonomics. Knots are not always confined to the neck and shoulders. You can even have knots in your feet.

Your massage therapist will also stretch the affected area.

Reflexology

Reflexology refers to applying pressure to specific points in the body. Each pressure point is believed to affect other areas of the body.

Practiced for thousands of years, reflexology has only recently been studied and practiced by the modern medical community. Reflexology promotes relaxation and well-being and can relieve pain and tension.

Studies³ have shown reflexology can decrease the severity of headaches and even reduce the need for medication.

What is a head massage, and how do you do it?

Head and scalp massages are used to improve sleep, relieve tension, treat and prevent headaches, and even improve hair growth.

You can use massage as often as necessary to help proactively treat migraine and tension headaches. If you feel a headache coming on, try a head massage to see if it helps stave off the headache or reduce its severity.

What to expect from a head massage

Your therapist will invite you to get comfortable on a massage table or massage chair.

Before moving to your scalp, your massage therapist will likely begin on your shoulders or neck, gently massaging away tension and applying pressure to any tight spots. They will then move on to your scalp.

Scalp massages with a therapist feel relaxing yet invigorating. They may use essential oils.

You can give yourself regular scalp massages. Scalp massage can be done daily or whenever you want. You may use oils, but it’s not required. If you do use oils, be sure to wash your hair and scalp thoroughly, as the oil can clog your pores.

It’s best to use small, circular motions on the scalp. Starting from the front, work your way back toward the base of your neck. Careful not to pull your hair or irritate your scalp.

Try to massage your scalp for at least five minutes. You can also use special massage tools designed for your scalp.

Essential oils to use during massage therapy

Essential oils amplify the healing power of therapeutic migraine massage.

Professional massage therapists often use certain oils when performing massage for migraine or tension headaches.

The following oils are thought to be beneficial when treating migraines and other headaches:

  • Peppermint oil

  • Rosemary oil

  • Lavender oil

  • Eucalyptus oil

When should you get a massage for a migraine?

Anytime is a good time to get a massage, but you’ll experience the most benefits when you schedule regular massages.

Regular massages help by:

  • Keeping tension and muscle aches at bay

  • Keeping your body and mind relaxed

  • Helping improve your sleep

For some, a consistent massage schedule helps prevent headaches. 

You can also schedule a massage when you feel a headache coming on. Telltale signs often signal a migraine is coming. Scheduling a massage when you notice the symptoms can help reduce the length and severity of your migraine or even stop it in its tracks.

How can you find the right therapist?

It helps to find a massage therapist with experience in working with migraine sufferers. Speak to your doctor and get their recommendations.

Finding a massage therapist you are comfortable with who practices the type of massage that works for your body is also important.

For example, a Swedish massage can be best for people who are sensitive and don’t want too much pressure. Those who want a more vigorous massage could benefit from a deep tissue massage, Thai massage, or Shiatsu.

The lowdown

Some people experience relief when they have regular massage therapy. You may find it’s worth a try. Different things work for different people, so you may need to experiment with various types of massage and massage intensity.

If you want to practice massage on your own, you can. Always run things past your physician, as they may have tips to help you. Scalp massage is a wonderful way to ease muscle tension and lower your stress levels.

When it comes to migraine headaches, approaching treatment from different angles is a good idea. Eating right, getting exercise, reducing stress, and working with your doctor in conjunction with enlisting the help of a massage therapist may help you combat your migraines.

Have you considered clinical trials for Migraine?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Migraine, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

Have you considered clinical trials for Migraine?

Do you want to know if there are any migraine clinical trials you might be eligible for?
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Last updated: Sep 2022

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