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Migraine Massage

Can I Get Relief from Migraines with Massage Therapy?

Question:

I started getting migraines several years ago. At first they were relatively rare, and I could usually identify the trigger. But recently, I’ve been getting them more frequently, and seemingly for no reason. The medication my doctor prescribed is effective, but it’s also fairly expensive, and it doesn’t do anything to lessen the frequency. Could massage therapy give me some relief?

Answer:

Migraines are one of the most prevalent neurological conditions worldwide, effecting 39 million people in the US and around 1 billion people globally.[1] The frequency of attacks can increase, with migraine attacks being most common for adults between the ages of 25 and 55.[2] Nearly every migraine sufferer takes some sort of medication, be it over-the-counter or prescribed, to relieve their symptoms. However, many have found, like you, that medication just isn’t enough.

Researchers at the University of Miami have studied the possible benefits of massage for migraines. For the study, one group of migraine sufferers continued to take their normal medication, but did not have massage therapy. Another group also continued to take their normal medication, but also received weekly massage therapy. Throughout the course of the study, no one in the massage group experienced a migraine attack.[3]

Migraines are believed to be related to your serotonin levels, and massage causes your body to release serotonin. Increased levels of serotonin may decrease the frequency and severity of your migraines.[4] Participants in the University of Miami study all had increased serotonin as a result of receiving massage therapy. They also reported that they slept better while receiving regular massage therapy.[5]

The best massage treatment for migraines may be deep tissue massage. However, deep tissue massage may be too much for you if you are recovering from a recent migraine attack and are sensitive to touch. In that case, a simple Swedish massage focusing on your hands and feet may provide some relief. A light massage of your hands and feet during an attack also might lessen your pain and reduce the pressure in your head.[6] Shiatsu massage technique, which focuses on pressure points along neural pathways and muscle lines, may also be beneficial in reducing the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.[7]

Before you start massage therapy, speak to your doctor or migraine specialist about it. They may be able to recommend specific types of massage that would work best for you. It’s also important not to stop taking your medication, even if you find that you stop having migraines after several weeks of regular massage therapy.

If you have sensitivity to light or movement, you can have a massage therapist come to your home so you don’t have to worry about driving or going outside during daylight hours. Look for a massage therapist who has experience providing massage therapy for migraine sufferers, and tell them the types of migraines you have and where you feel the most pain or pressure during an attack. That will help them determine the best areas to focus their efforts.

References:

[1] Migraine Research Foundation: “Migraine Facts” http://migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine/migraine-facts/

[2] Id.

[3] Migraine Relief Center: “Migraines and Massage: What You Need to Know” https://blog.themigrainereliefcenter.com/migraines-and-massage-what-you-should-know

[4] Massage.com: “Massage for Migraines: an introduction” https://migraine.com/complimentary-and-alternative-therapies/massage/

[5] Migraine Relief Center: “Migraines and Massage: What You Need to Know” https://blog.themigrainereliefcenter.com/migraines-and-massage-what-you-should-know

[6] Id.

[7] American Massage Therapy Association: “Tackling Migraines Head-On” https://www.amtamassage.org/articles/3/MTJ/detail/3704/tackling-migraines-head-on

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