Can Massage Therapy help with my headaches? Yes! Although Massage Therapy may not spring to mind as a typical intervention for ongoing headaches, I have had a lot of success over the years treating clients for head pain. There are a few ways Massage Therapy can address headaches, but the most common way is by addressing trigger points in the neck and upper back. A trigger point is a specific point in a muscle that, when stimulated, can cause referred pain. These pain patterns are remarkably consistent from one person to another and there are A LOT of trigger points that refer to the head, mimicking a headache. Some trigger points can even mimic migraines or cause some autonomic phenomena to occur, such as watery eyes, runny nose, and light sensitivity. So, by addressing the tension in the neck and associated trigger points, headaches will often disappear!
There are so many different types of headaches, how can you know if Massage Therapy will help you with your specific headache? There are some good clues to watch for that may indicate that your headache pain is associated with a pesky trigger point:
- Does the headache seem to just come on out of nowhere? Does it seem to come and go without any rhyme or reason? This type of pain patterning is very typical of trigger points!
- Do you complain that pain meds (Advil, Tylenol) don’t seem to help much, maybe only ‘taking the edge off’? This is also typical of trigger points. Remember, a trigger point is not inflammatory. It is just a stuck spot in a muscle.
- Does your headache seem to come on later in the day? This is usually a sign that muscles are involved. Muscles will fatigue as the day goes on, which will often be the time that a trigger point becomes active, which means another headache.
- Do you wake up in the middle of the night with a headache? This can be from sleeping in a position that ‘sets off’ the trigger point, especially if you are a stomach sleeper!
In my practice I have lots of clients who have learned to manage their headaches with Massage Therapy. When headaches are an issue, often one session can be enough to relieve the pounding headache pain. As a Massage Therapist, I am a firm believer in ‘Find the Cause, Treat the Cause’ mantra, which means that once the headache has been relieved, we can work towards addressing why those headaches started in the first place. This means I address those areas of the neck that are under tension, as this is likely generating those trigger points. By restoring balance through the musculature of the neck, headaches can become a thing of the past for many clients!
It is worth mentioning that if your headache doesn’t seem to fall into the trigger point category, Massage Therapy might still prove to be a viable intervention. I have had success using CranioSacral therapy to relieve some headaches, and it can be quite effective to relieve headaches associated with sinus pressure. Also, don’t discount the efficacy of traditional Swedish Massage when dealing with headaches. Many types of headaches boil down to a circulation issue, and Massage is a great way to loosen up the musculature and connective tissue in and around the neck, which will have an indirect effect on the circulatory vessels of the neck and head. So next time you are struggling with a headache, consider giving Massage Therapy a try…you might be surprised at how effective it is!