Massage and Migraines

Let’s just say it…migraines are awful! They’re a painful, debilitating, and all-too-common problem for many people. It’s estimated that up to 13% of the US population suffers from migraines. While many people seek over-the-counter or prescription drugs to ease their pain and prevent migraines, you may want to consider adding massage into your regular routine instead. Research has shown that massage can improve headache pain and decrease the frequency of migraines.

But what exactly is a migraine and how can massage help?

Migraines are typically felt as a severe pain in the head accompanied by light and sound sensitivity, nausea, and visual disturbances. For many years, migraines were believed to be vascular in nature. It was thought that the blood vessels in the head and neck would spasm or dilate excessively causing significant decreases and/or increases in blood flow, resulting in migraine symptoms. However, in recent years, studies have shown that migraines are much more likely neurological in nature.

Now that we understand there is a major neurological component to migraines, it’s easier to understand how massage can benefit those who suffer from this debilitating condition. Massage stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, the part that calms us. This portion of the nervous system is responsible for regulating our breathing, slowing our heartrate, returning our blood pressure to normal, and overall keeping the body relatively stress-free. By keeping us and our nervous system calm, migraines can often be avoided. In a 2006 study¹, weekly massage sessions were shown to decrease migraine frequency and improve sleep quality. A gentle, yet focused massage to the back, neck, shoulders, scalp, and face seems to be the most effective in helping those who suffer from migraines.

While massage during a migraine may seem out of the question, as most people experience intense touch sensitivity and aversion, when massage is performed only on the feet or hands, symptoms can decrease. This is thought to be due to the calming effect on the entire nervous system, thereby decreasing the abnormal neurological signals that are being perceived.

So before your next migraine hits, schedule regular massage appointments and let us help keep them at bay.

References: ¹ A randomized, controlled trial of massage therapy as a treatment for migraine. Lawler SP1, Cameron LD. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16827629