I don’t like to make claims I can’t support. So I won’t say that massage therapy will fix or cure your headaches. But in many cases, massage therapy is a way to reduce the frequency of your headaches. For some people, it can also decrease your pain.
Headaches happen for numerous reasons – we don’t always know the causes, but they include: tension, migraines, nerve irritation, vascular spasm or dilation, and even caffeine withdrawal. Adults with a new headache pattern or a severe, unrelenting headache should head to their doctor. For headaches that fit your usual pattern, you can head to your RMT for treatment.
Massage for headaches will usually involve the upper back, neck, shoulders, and sometimes the scalp and face. Trigger points or muscle tension can refer pain into the head, and the way you move, clench, and tense up during a headache might increase muscle tension in these areas. In Ontario, RMTs are also trained in joint mobilizations that have proved more effective in treating some headache types than typical soft-tissue massage.
Whether or not you go for a massage during an active headache depends on your comfort levels – gentle techniques like manual lymphatic drainage have a strong effect on your nervous system, helping you to calm down (by influencing you autonomic nervous system) and decrease pain perception (by working with your pain receptors). Massage therapy also has an effect on the circulatory system and, of course, your muscles. Changing positions or including cold hydrotherapy can also help you feel comfortable during the massage. But some days a full migraine means you can’t leave the house – when that happens, just give the clinic a call to reschedule your appointment.
Youssef, E. F., & Shanb, A. A. (2013). Mobilization versus massage therapy in the treatment of cervicogenic headache: A clinical study. Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, 26(1), 17-24. doi:10.3233/bmr-2012-0344
Moraska, A., & Chandler, C. (2008). Changes in Clinical Parameters in Patients with Tension-type Headache Following Massage Therapy: A Pilot Study. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 16(2), 106-112. doi:10.1179/106698108790818468
Quinn, C., Chandler, C., & Moraska, A. (2002). Massage Therapy and Frequency of Chronic Tension Headaches. American Journal of Public Health, 92(10), 1657-1661. doi:10.2105/ajph.92.10.1657