Headache Relief with Massage Therapy

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hronic headaches are a distressing fact of life for millions of people. The need to continually cope with pain often diminishes the quality of a person’s life at work and home. With its ability to relieve muscle tension, promote healing of injuries, and reduce stress, therapeutic massage can be a powerful ally in your battle against chronic headaches.

What type headache do you have?

Tension headaches – Many headaches are due to basic muscle tension.

Tension headaches vary in pain level and are sometimes accompanied by band-like pressure around the head. They originate in the neck, head and shoulders from tight, contracted muscles and/or trigger points (irritable spots that refer pain elsewhere). Postural problems, mental and physical stress, and disturbed sleep patterns can all contribute to tension headaches.

Migraine headaches – Migraines are characterized by intense, one-sided pain, which may extend to the face, jaw and neck. They can last from several hours to several days and involve nausea, dizziness, extreme fatigue and sensitivity to light or sound.

Factors that can contribute to their onset include stress, lack of sleep, hormonal changes, food allergies, missing a meal, certain medications, bright lights and loud noises.

Headaches due to neck injury – Muscle and ligament injuries in the neck often cause headaches. These injuries can be caused by a sudden trauma such as whiplash, or have a gradual onset from repetitious activities such as working at a computer for hours every day. Muscle tension and scar tissue in injured areas can limit movement, restrict blood flow and cause trigger points, resulting in head and neck pain.

Other types of headaches Cluster headaches – occur in a series, then disappear for months at a time. Rebound headaches are caused by accumulated toxins from frequent use of prescription or over-the-counter pain medications.

Post-traumatic headaches are a result of head injury, may occur immediately or well after the injury, and often go hand-in-hand with headaches due to neck injury. Among the long list of other headache causes are sinusitis, allergies, TMJD (temporomandibular joint dysfunction), high blood pressure, tumors and strokes.

It is important to receive medical attention for these, or any chronic or severe headache. Also, because there is a chance that a sudden severe headache could indicate an emergency, if you experience head pain unlike anything you’ve experienced before, seek medical help immediately.

How can massage help?

Massage to the neck and head can relieve headaches by releasing tight, shortened muscles, trigger points, and fascia (connective tissue surrounding muscles and other structures). When muscles and fascia relax and become more pliable, circulation improves. This helps eliminate irritating waste products and brings oxygen and healing nutrients to tissues.

If your headache is due to an injury, massage therapy can promote healing and make restrictive scar tissue more pliable in the muscles and ligaments of the neck. If posture is a factor, massage can help by increasing your awareness of tension patterns that affect your posture so that you can take steps to improve it.

For migraines, massage may be a powerful preventive measure. It can help reduce accumulated physical and mental stress and, over time, reduce the frequency and intensity of episodes.

Stress and pain relief

The relaxing effects of massage are a powerful way to ease stress and tension, an aggravating factor in almost any type of headache. When you focus on the pleasant sensation of relaxation, the persistent grip of pain recedes. As the body relaxes, so does the mind, reducing anxiety that may be part of your headache pattern. The nervous system calms, your breath slows and deepens, and your feeling of well-being is restored.

Meeting your individual needs

To treat your specific headache pattern, your massage therapist will draw from various massage techniques as well as other strategies such as stretching or hot and cold applications. A single session can provide much needed short-term relief. For more lasting effects, your therapist may recommend a series.

Always keep your therapist informed about your symptoms, medications and state of health so that she or he can ensure that your treatment is comfortable and effective.

A comprehensive approach

Because chronic headaches often result from multiple factors, a multifaceted approach that includes massage may be the most effective treatment. Following an exercise program or practicing yoga, tai chi, or other movement arts may help reduce muscle tension and improve posture and balance in your body. A physician, allergist or licensed nutritionist can assist you if your headache has a chemical, dietary or hormonal factor. Stress counseling may help you learn to relax and to express your feelings, which can prevent stress from building.

Massage – a powerful ally

Massage therapy can be one of your most powerful allies in coping with chronic headaches. It works on many levels to reduce physical and mental stress, improve circulation, promote healing and increase energy. With the pain and frequency of your headaches reduced, you can enjoy a renewed sense of well-being and an increased enjoyment of work, play and family life.

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