Expert Answer: Can massage help with my migraines?
The question itself tells us that many people who have migraine headaches are in the dark about massage.
I am a massage therapist and migraine sufferer, and let me tell you, the answer is yes! Massage may help ease the symptoms and frequency of migraines. For some, massage can even be the primary therapy that helps get rid of their migraines for good.
In general, however, no single therapy works on everyone the same way and at the same time. My clients with migraines use heat, ice, naps, drugs, exercise therapy, acupuncture, adjustments, electrical stimulation, vibrating pads, diet, any number of therapies to stop attacks. And that is just fine with me. I would never tell anyone that another therapy doesn’t work, because I know that every person is different, with their own unique causes and their own set of triggers. What works for one person with a migraine might not work for someone else, or an option might work much better after they add one or more other therapies to the mix.
A practitioner who focuses on your specific headache patterns, triggers and reactions makes the biggest difference in results. Massage therapists study and treat patterns of muscle and connective tissue dysfunction. For a person with migraines, addressing those patterns helps reduce and erase headaches. I like to question people about their patterns and then try to match their symptoms to what I am feeling in my massage.
Many people with migraines have some history of trauma — car accidents, falls - or they played frequent-injury sports such as football, soccer, gymnastics or cheer. Often these injuries have been forgotten because they did not cause major problems at the time.Over the years, however, clumps of tightened, overstretched muscles experience chronic inflammation and dysfunction. It may be many years of repeated small traumas and tightness before headaches emerge.
Several types of headaches may be happening at once, leading up to full-blown migraines. That pattern gives massage therapists opportunities to reduce frequency by addressing pre-migraine headaches. Addressing the whole body through massage is very important to prevent repeating patterns. I have found clusters of migraine-related muscle dysfunction as far away as the low back and hips.
As the patterns unravel, reactions to therapies may change as well. In my own experience, I loved massages and heat, but I would get worse if I had adjustments. As massage reduced my headache frequency, I found could get soft, non-cracking, adjustments. Also, I thought acupuncture didn’t work for me. Turns out the first acupuncturist I saw used a by-the-book approach. The second asked for my feedback instead of assuming I had the same points as everyone else. Paying attention to my symptoms and reactions did the trick.
As someone who struggled with migraines for many years, I say hang in there. If you haven’t tried massages yet, by all means go for it. A good massage, and perhaps most importantly, a focused, persistent therapist will help you find your way!
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